by Kimberly Allen R.N.
Appendicitis occurs when the appendix has become infected and inflamed. It is considered a medical emergency and requires immediate medical intervention. Appendicitis is most common reason for emergency surgery in the US. It usually affects children and teens between the ages of 11 and 20, it rarely affects infants, but can occur in adults.
The appendix is a small pouch that extends out from your large intestine, also called the colon. It is located on the lower right side of your abdomen. Tough Drs have yet to discover its purpose if it becomes infected it can cause serious problems. There are two ways that bacteria can get into and infect the appendix. One is the opening into the colon can become blocked, which is usually caused by a hard piece of stool called a fecal stone or it can develop after you have had another infection, usually a viral gastrointestinal infection. Either way the bacteria become trapped inside the appendix. Once there they multiply rapidly causing the appendix to become swollen, inflamed and full of pus.
The symptoms of appendicitis can also mimick other diseases so many people tend to diagnose themselves and use over the counter medications to treat what they think the problem is. The most common symptom is abdominal pain. the location of the pain depends on the size and location of the appendix. The pain may not be all that noticeable in the early stages of infection but it does intensify. When I was 7 years old I remember one day I wasn’t feeling so well and didn’t feel like playing so I sat under a tree and fell asleep, when I awoke I still didn’t feel well and didn’t want my dinner. That night I woke the whole house up, even the people living upstairs with my screams of pain. my appendix was not only infected but had shifted and was laying on my kidney. Because my appendix was on my kidney the pain was more toward the center of my abdomen, but most people complain of pain in their lower right side. Other common symptoms include nausea and vomiting with a poor appetite. Most people also have a fever.
Left untreated appendicitis can lead to serious complications, the most common being that the appendix ruptures. Should the appendix rupture all the pus and bacteria would then leak out into the abdomen. This can then cause an infection of the entire lining of the pelvis and abdomen. A condition known as peritonitis. Peritonitis is a very serious condition that can lead to involvement of multiple organs. Another complication of appendicitis though less common is a blockage of the intestine. A blockage occurs because because the inflammation that surrounds the appendix causes the muscles of the intestines to stop moving preventing the contents of the intestines to pass by. The most serious complication of appendicitis is sepsis. Sepsis occurs when a piece of bacteria breaks of and enters the bloodstream. This can be a life threatening condition so fortunately it rarely occurs.
As soon as the Dr suspects you have appendicitis you will be started on intravenous antibiotics. then once the diagnosis of appendicitis is confirmed you will be prep’d and taken to surgery for an appendectomy. In some cases the person may not heed the symptoms and seek medical attention until days after the appendix has ruptured and an abscess has usually formed. In those cases a drain is placed in the abdomen to allow the infection to drain out. The appendix can not be removed until the abscess has been resolved.
Today laproscopic surgery is the preferred method for removing the appendix. Recovery is much faster and there are fewer complications and less scaring with healing. However, this type of surgery is not appropriate for everyone. In cases where the appendix has ruptured and there is infection that has spread beyond the appendix an open appendectomy is usually performed. An open appendectomy involves the surgeon making an incision and opening the abdomen to remove the appendix and clean out any infection. This type of surgery requires several days in the hospital after surgery to monitor for complications.
The most important thing to remember is if you or someone you know has symptoms of appendicitis early intervention is critical to treatment and recovery as well as avoiding the complications associated with appendicitis.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.