You may have been told as a kid to avoid running or jumping around after eating because it might give you appendicitis. And it probably led you to believe later in life that you cannot exercise immediately after eating for the same reason. However, these are deep-seated myths that need to be separated from facts.
In this article, we will delve deeper into the facts about appendicitis, including its real causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options.
What is appendicitis?
Appendicitis is a medical condition that occurs when the appendix becomes inflamed and swollen.
The appendix is a hollow, tubular organ attached to the large intestine. It is like an extending pouch of the colon located at the lower right part of the belly (abdomen). Unlike the other organs, the appendix does not have a clear function in the human body. However, recent research suggests that it may be a “safe house” for good bacteria and plays part in the immune system.
Regardless of its function, the appendix has a notorious reputation for its tendency to become inflamed (appendicitis). As the inflammation worsens, the appendix gets filled with pus, starts to swell even more, and eventually ruptures if left untreated. When the appendix ruptures, its infected contents leak into your abdominal cavity, which can lead to a potentially life-threatening infection. Because of this, appendicitis is considered a medical emergency.
In fact, according to the Philippine College of Surgeons, appendicitis is the most common medical emergency of the abdomen. It is also one of the most common conditions requiring surgery in the Philippines.
What causes appendicitis?
It is not clear what causes appendicitis, but experts believe that it is caused by a blockage in the appendix, usually by a hardened lump of fecal matter that finds its way into the appendix and lodges itself there.
Other possible causes include:
- Digestive tract infection
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Growths inside the appendix
- Trauma. Accidents that involve blunt trauma to the abdomen can cause swelling that blocks the appendix.
What are the symptoms?
The telltale symptom of appendicitis is pain in the abdomen. The pain may start in the area around your belly button and then moves to the lower right portion of your belly where the appendix is located. The abdominal pain also worsens with movement, deep breathing, coughing, or sneezing.
Other common symptoms include the following:
- Upset stomach and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Fever and chills
- Trouble having a bowel movement (constipation)
- Loose stool (diarrhea)
- Trouble passing gas
- Swollen belly
There is no way to predict who will get appendicitis, so spotting the symptoms of appendicitis is vital for early diagnosis and prevention of serious complications.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the appendix can rupture 48 -72 hours after the manifestation of symptoms. When the appendix ruptures, the infection can spread to the abdomen, leading to a more serious condition called peritonitis, a potentially life-threatening infection of the inner lining of your abdomen (peritoneum). This is why, if you experience pain in the lower right side of your abdomen along with any of the symptoms above, it is important to talk to your doctor immediately.
How to diagnose appendicitis?
Diagnosis of appendicitis is typically made through a combination of physical examination, laboratory tests (blood and urine), and imaging studies such as an ultrasound or CT scan.
During the physical examination, your doctor will assess your abdominal pain by applying gentle pressure around the area. Your doctor may also look for a swollen, rigid belly, which can indicate that your appendix has ruptured.
A blood test can help check any signs of infection while a urine test can help rule out other conditions that cause similar symptoms as appendicitis, such as urinary tract infection or kidney stones.
Imaging tests may be required by the doctor to understand the cause of the symptoms better and confirm the diagnosis of appendicitis.
What are the treatment options for appendicitis?
Treatment for appendicitis typically involves surgical removal of the appendix, called an appendectomy.
It can be done either through an open incision in the abdomen (called open appendectomy) or laparoscopically (laparoscopic appendectomy), wherein the surgeon inserts surgical tools and a small camera into your abdomen through small abdominal incisions to remove your appendix.
In general, laparoscopic appendectomy is less invasive than an open appendectomy but is typically performed only among patients whose appendix has not ruptured.
If your appendix has ruptured, and the infection has spread outside the appendix, you may be required to undergo an open appendectomy. This procedure enables the surgeon to thoroughly clean the abdominal cavity.
The recovery time for laparoscopic surgery can be as short as 24 hours, while open surgery might require up to a week of recovery. Regardless, both laparoscopic and open appendectomy are safe procedures, with a high success rate and minimal, if any, side effects.
Appendicitis is a serious health concern that requires prompt medical attention. If you experience symptoms of appendicitis, it is important to seek medical attention right away, as early treatment can help prevent rupture of the appendix and other serious health problems. With proper care and attention, most people are able to make a full recovery after an appendectomy, and can return to their normal activities in a relatively short period of time.