Appendicitis

What is appendicitis?

Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix, which is a small pouch of tissue attached to the colon, located in the lower right abdomen. It is formed at the junction of the small and large intestines.

What are the symptoms?

A sudden pain around the middle of the abdomen that moves to the lower right abdomen or a pain in the lower right abdomen (where the appendix is located) are common symptoms of appendicitis.  Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhoea and a fever. A pain that becomes worse all of a sudden and spreads across the abdomen is a sign that the appendix may have burst and requires immediate medical attention.

What causes appendicitis?

Appendicitis is caused by a blockage or obstruction in the appendix that leads to infection. The appendix gets filled with a build-up of mucus, causing swelling.

How can it be prevented?

Appendicitis is very hard to prevent, although there is evidence that it is less prevalent in people with high fibre diets.

Appendicitis can lead to the appendix rupturing, which is a very dangerous complication and it is important to prevent the condition reaching this stage.

A ruptured appendix spreads potentially life-threatening infection. Peritonitis occurs when the peritoneum (tissue which lines the abdomen) becomes infected and can cause long-term problem and even death.

What is the treatment?

In most cases, the appendix is removed by surgery. The operation is referred to as an appendectomy and is performed to prevent the appendix from bursting. The operation is performed as either open or keyhole surgery.

Keyhole surgery is preferred over open surgery and will be carried out where possible. Keyhole, or laparoscopic, surgery is less invasive than open surgery and has shorter recovery times.  Several small incisions are made in the abdomen, which is then inflated with a gas to make it easier to perform the surgery. The operation is done with the aid of a laparoscope, which is a small tube with a camera that relays images back to the surgeon.

In cases where the patient has previously had abdominal surgery or the appendix has already burst in might not be possible to perform keyhole surgery. In these cases, open surgery might be preformed, which consists of a single, much larger cut in the lower right abdomen.

If the appendix has burst and an abscess has formed, it will be necessary to drain the abscess before performing an appendectomy. 

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