Appendicitis is the inflammation or swelling of the appendix, a small pouch located in the abdominal region and attached to the beginning of the large intestine (also known as the colon).
The purpose of the appendix is unclear. It has previously been suggested that it was once used to help digest plants and has been made redundant by human beings modern lifestyle. But more recent studies have shown that the organ may be the home of ‘friendly bacteria’, used by the body to improve digestion and help fight infections, according to the NHS.
It is a widespread condition and usually occurs in young people between the ages of 10 and 20. In America, it is one of the most common causes of emergency abdominal surgery, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM).
What causes it?
The exact causes of appendicitis are not known, but it is thought that the condition is usually brought on by an obstruction of some sort. This could be faecal matter, a foreign object or in rare cases a tumour. Once bacteria from the foreign body have entered the appendix, they multiply rapidly, causing the organ to swell up. If no action is taken, an inflamed appendix can burst and infect surrounding areas.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of appendicitis vary and the condition can be difficult to diagnose. The NLM points out certain signs to look out for:
- Pain around the belly button, mild at first and becoming increasingly severe and gradually moving to the right lower abdomen
- Reduced appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Diarrhoea or constipation
If the appendix bursts, the patient may feel temporary relief. However, this is just until the lining of the abdominal cavity becomes inflamed and symptoms worsen significantly.
How is it treated?
The patient should seek immediate medical advice if they have persistent, worsening abdominal pain, fever or blood in the vomit or stool. Although there are many illnesses which can cause these symptoms, it is important to exclude appendicitis. A doctor is usually able to identify the condition by gently exerting pressure on the right lower abdomen area and suddenly releasing it. The sufferer would feel increased pain.
In mild cases, the condition can be treated with antibiotics, but more often the appendix is removed surgically – a procedure known as an appendectomy. It does not usually take long to recover from this type of surgery, unless the appendix has ruptured, in which case the healing process can be significantly longer.
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