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 may be caused by something trapped in the appendix, such as:
- A piece of dried stool
- A piece of food
- Scar tissue
- Barium after an exam
- Overgrowth of the lymph tissue of the appendix
The lining of the appendix continues to produce mucus. It has no place to go. Bacteria normally found in the intestines buildup 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, which can lead to a life-threatening infection called peritonitis. Appendicitis needs to be treated right away.
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. Some or all of the following may be present:
- Starts as discomfort around the belly button
- Usually moves to the right side of the abdomen over several hours
- May be in a different location if the appendix is not in the usual place
- Increases as redness and swelling in the appendix builds
- Worsens with sneezing, coughing, and deep breathing
- May increase with movement
- Loss of appetite
- Swelling of the abdomen
- Abdomen feels hard and is sensitive to touch
- Mild diarrhea
- Slight fever
If the appendix ruptures, symptoms include:
- Pain becoming stronger and spreading across the abdomen
- Increasing fever
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:
- A careful examination of the abdomen
- A rectal exam
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:
- Blood tests
- Urine tests
Your bodily structures may need to be viewed. This can be done with:
The main treatment for appendicitis is a total appendectomy. It is usually done as soon as possible.
Uncomplicated appendicitis can be treated with antiobiotics.
There are no current 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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Appendicitis. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal-disorders/acute-abdomen-and-surgical-gastroenterology/appendicitis. Updated January 2017. Accessed January 9, 2018.
Appendicitis. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/appendicitis. Accessed January 9, 2018.
Appendicitis in adolescents and adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115548/Appendicitis-in-adolescents-and-adults. Updated October 25, 2017. Accessed January 9, 2018.
7/13/2007 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Styrud J, Eriksson S, Nilsson I, et al. Appendectomy versus antibiotic treatment in acute appendicitis. a prospective multicenter randomized controlled trial. World J Surg. 2006;30:1033-1037.
5/27/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115548/Appendicitis-in-adolescents-and-adults: McCutcheon BA, Chang DC, Marcus LP, et al. Long-term outcomes of patients with nonsurgically managed uncomplicated appendicitis. J Am Coll Surg. 2014;218(5):905-913.
6/23/2014 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Choosing wisely. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T905359/Choosing-Wisely. Updated July 23, 2015. Accessed January 9, 2018.
Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Daus Mahnke, MD Last Updated: 6/1/2018