The appendix is a finger-like extension on the right side of the lower large intestine. Sometimes this vestigial organ can become infected and will begin to swell, becoming inflamed, and pus will begin to collect as the body's immune system attempts to contain the infection. It is a medical emergency which usually requires surgery to prevent spreading of the infection. Otherwise, the infected appendix could rupture, leaking bacteria and pus into the abdominal area, causing a more serious condition called peritonitis. Left untreated, this condition could easily become fatal.
Symptoms of Appendicitis
When appendicitis first begins, there may be very few symptoms. As the appendix becomes more inflamed, the pain will become rapidly intense, followed by:
- Appetite loss
- Vomiting and nausea
- Swelling in the abdomen
- A low to mid-grade fever
- Cramping not relieved by passing gas
- Trying to pass gas but you cannot
- Diarrhea or constipation, sometimes alternating
If you have appendicitis, the pain and swelling will continue to increase. Movement exacerbates these symptoms. Coughing, sneezing, or laughing will cause intense pain in the lower right area of the abdomen. Doctors can usually diagnose the condition by applying pressure to the area and quickly releasing it. At this point, the pain will spike to an unbearable degree (rebound tenderness) and your physician will likely order a quick scan to see if it is real appendicitis.
Appendicitis in Children
Usually the symptoms of appendicitis are the same in all individuals both young and old. However, there can be atypical symptoms of the condition in children.
Appendicitis usually occurs in children as well as teenagers between the ages of 10 to 19 years of age. In younger children, there are hallmark symptoms, manifesting as the following:
- Moderate to high fever
- Abdominal pain with distinct rebound tenderness
- Lowered or elevated blood pressure
- Abdominal pain in the navel which moves to McBurney's point, located just above the appendix
- High white blood cell counts to indicate systemic infection
Appendicitis in Pregnanct Women
Pregnancy alone has many interesting side effects which include abdominal pain in the exact location of the appendix and this may not indicate symptoms of appendicitis. The most frequently experienced symptoms of this infection in pregnant women include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Appetite loss
- Pain in the abdomen at the lower right
For pregnant women, fever and diarrhea are less common. Instead, pregnant women may experience symptoms that ordinary people with appendicitis don't usually have, such as uterine contractions, difficult and painful urination or upper right belly pain. This could be due to the changed position of the appendix in pregnancy.
What to Do for Symptoms of Appendicitis
1. Seek Medical Attention Immediately
Should you be experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, it is important to seek medical help. Only a doctor can diagnose appendicitis symptoms versus symptoms of other disorders such as diverticulitis, tubal pregnancy, pelvic inflammation, colitis, Crohn's disease, and possible cancer of the colon.
Avoid use of any over the counter medicines, as these could cause rupture of the appendix, complicating the situation further.
2. Diagnosing Your Condition
Generally, you should avoid trying to diagnose your own symptoms of appendicitis. The symptoms you have, along with an examination by a physician, will help determine if the condition is appendicitis. Urinary tract infections and colitis can sometimes mimic the symptoms. A qualified physician will be able to run blood tests and do an ultrasound to discover if appendicitis is actually the medical issue you are experiencing.
3. Decide If Surgery Is Necessary
When you have been diagnosed, it will be up to your attending physician to determine if surgery is necessary. In some cases, appendicitis can be treated with antibiotics and immediate surgery is not necessarily indicated. If the condition is advanced, it will be of utmost importance to have the appendix surgically removed before it ruptures into the abdominal cavity.
An appendectomy is the surgical removal of the appendix. Usually, this consists of a single incision in the abdomen. The incision will be about 2 to 4 inches.
- Laparoscopic surgery
Laparoscopic surgery, one other method used, is done by creating a few small incisions and the surgeon will insert a small camera to help guide the surgery with special tools and remove the infected appendix.
Laparoscopic surgery will enable you to recover at a more rapid pace and you will experience less pain after the surgery, along with the benefit of less scarring. However, it's not appropriate if the appendix has ruptured, an abscess is present or the infection has spread beyond the appendix. Instead, the surgeon will have to open the abdominal cavity to clear any spreading infection.
- Abscess draining
In case the appendix ruptures, forming an abscess around the infection, your doctor will need to perform a procedure to drain the abscess prior to performing the appendectomy.
Following an appendectomy, you will need to contact your doctor without hesitation if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Vomiting which will not go away
- Persisting pain in the abdomen
- Blood in the urine, stool, or in your vomit
- Faintness or dizziness
- Diarrhea and fever
Can It Be Prevented?
Though the cause of appendicitis is not presently understood, the condition is certainly not contagious. As of now, there is no clear prevention protocol, but there are some things you can do to reduce the risk.
- People who eat healthy diets rich in high fiber foods such as fruits and vegetables have less of a propensity to develop symptoms of appendicitis or the condition itself. By eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, you will increase the fiber in your diet, creating more consistent bowel movements and reducing the risk.
- Consistent hydration by drinking plenty of water and fresh juices will also be needed with a high fiber diet to prevent constipation.
- Raw foods are rich in enzymes which help you maintain healthy intestines while improving immunity.
- Garlic, eaten on a regular basis, can help boost the immune system and a couple of tablespoons of ground flax seeds taken daily will help to soften your stools, maintaining bowel regularity.
- It has also been shown that foods rich in lactic acid, such as fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, and kimchi help maintain healthy bacterial balance in the gut.