An appendix is a thin, wormlike tube, about 90 mm long, which protrudes from the first part of the column. In herbivores, e.g. rabbits, the appendix is relatively large and plays an important role in the digestion process. In humans, however, appendix is relatively small and, as it seems, only an evolutionary ”relic” and it is still unknown whether it performs any function or not.
Like the rest of the intestine, the appendix contains bacteriae that are harmless as long as they are in balance. Some doctors believe that appendicitis may be the result of partial or complete blockage of the appendix. Constipation can be caused by unusually hardened intestinal aggregate, swollen lymph glands, tumor (less common) and intestinal parasites (even less common). Regardless of the possible cause of blockage, it can increase the bacterial population, causing swelling, inflammation and filling with dung.
However, appendicitis can be caused by a number of other factors, and the actual cause of inflammation often remains unknown. There are no ways to predict or prevent apendicitis.
Due to the variety of symptoms, appendicitis is sometimes difficult to diagnose, no matter how experienced the physician is. Symptoms usually occur quickly, often in 24 hours or less after the appendicitis starts.
The main symptom is a severe pain in the abdominal cavity; at first, there is an indeterminate feeling of discomfort around the navel, which then passes into stronger and more localized pains within a few hours. If you have appendicitis, you will probably feel the pain in the restricted area in the lower right part of the abdominal cavity (i.e. at the site of the appendix). The pain will increase even if you gently touch the painful area. You will be feverish and feel nauseous and perhaps vomit; you will lose the appetite; it is possible to have a constipation or, less often, diarrhea. If you feel dull, frequent pain in the lower abdominal cavity, you may have a condition sometimes referred to as “chronic appendicitis.” However, most doctors believe that such a condition does not exist; instead, they say that those are repeated attacks of acute appendicitis.
Every year, 1 person out of 500 people gets an appendicitis attack. The disease can affect anyone, regardless of age, although it is rare in children under two years.
If diagnosed early, appendicitis is not a major threat. It is dangerous, however, if the patient thinks, at the initial stages of developing an illness, that the pain is a consequence of gastroenteritis, and then takes a laxative; due to the use of such agents, the appendix may break (perforate). Swollen appendix may perforate if the patient, for some reason, does not go to the doctor and delays the treatment. As the appendix perforates, the contents of the appendix is poured into the abdominal cavity, and the probable outcome of this is peritonitis. However, there is also the possibility that the omentum, a membane that covers the intestines, will envelop an inflamed appendix, thus narrowing the affected area and preventing the spread of the infection. If the infection is limited in this way, the appendix abscess occurs.
What to do?
If you feel pain in the lower right side of the abdominal cavity with any other symptoms of appendicitis, contact your doctor immediately. Do not take constipation relief for the reasons explained in the paragraph above.
The doctor will ask you questions about the type and appearance of the symptoms and carefully examine your stomach to examine the place and strength of the pain. If your doctor concludes that you have appendicitis, you will be directed to the hospital immediately. If there is any doubt about the diagnosis, and if the symptoms indicate that the operation is not urgent, you may go to additional diagnostic tests, such as blood test (CBC) and X-ray of the abdominal cavity. Otherwise, a surgical procedure – laparotomy – is performed immediately. If the cause of your problems is appendicitis, it is almost certain that it will be removed surgically. The only cure for appendicitis is the rapid surgical removal of the inflammatory organ. The operation – appendectomy – is simple and there is no great risk of complications. Appendectomy can usually be performed as soon as laparotomy determines the cause of the problem.
Removing the appendix does not affect the general health condition and, of course, prevents any further appendicitis attacks.
If diagnostic tests or laparotomy show that a patient has appendix abscess, the surgeon will not remove the appendix because the operation is hampered by the greater omentum, adhering to the inflamed organ. In this case, the patient will receive high doses of antibiotics to suppress the abscess and will be released from the hospital after a few days, athough he will be antibiotics for several weeks. The patient will be re-admitted to the hospital after some time for appendectomy, but only after the tests show that the abscess is completely gone.