The appendix is a small, tube-like organ that hangs from the large intestine. Appendicitis is inflammation of the appendix. The appendix has no known function.
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Appendicitis usually occurs when the appendix becomes inflamed. This can be caused by something trapped in the appendix, such as:
The lining of the appendix continues to produce mucus. It has no place to go. Bacteria normally found in the intestines build up and make toxins in the lining of the appendix. Pressure builds and causes severe pain in the abdomen. The wall of the appendix can break open. The contents of a ruptured appendix can spill into the abdominal cavity. This causes serious redness and swelling. This is called peritonitis. It can be fatal.
Appendicitis is more common in men and teenagers.
You are at increased risk of developing appendicitis if you have family members who have had appendicitis.
Symptoms usually happen quickly. Pain usually increases during a 6-12 hour period. Patients may have some or all of the following symptoms:
If the appendix ruptures, symptoms include:
Note: Symptoms may be different in infants, children, pregnant women, and the elderly.
If you have severe pain in the abdomen, get medical help right away. Appendicitis can be hard to diagnose. Symptoms vary and can be similar to symptoms of other diseases.
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done, including:
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:
Your bodily structures may need to be viewed. This can be done with:
Appendicitis may be treated by surgically removing the appendix as soon as possible. Sometimes the diagnosis is not certain. Your condition will be carefully monitored for 6-12 hours before operating. You will also be given antibiotics to fight infection.
Sometimes appendicitis does not need to be treated with surgery and you will just be given antibiotics.
There are no guidelines to prevent appendicitis. It starts quickly and the cause is usually unknown. Get medical care right away for severe abdominal pain. It will decrease the risk of rupture.
American College of Surgeons
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
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5/27/2014 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: McCutcheon BA, Chang DC, et al. Long-term outcomes of patients with nonsurgically managed uncomplicated appendicitis. J Am Coll Surg. 2014 May;218(5):905-913.
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Last reviewed December 2014 by Marcin Chwistek, MD Last Updated: 12/20/2014