Appendicitis | Digestive Health Program | Loyola Medicine

Appendicitis

Overview and Facts about Appendicitis

Appendicitis is a digestive health condition that occurs when the appendix, a small tube extending from the large intestine, becomes inflamed. People do not need their appendix to survive, and more than 300,000 people have their appendix removed each year due to appendicitis.

Signs and Symptoms of Appendicitis

The most typical symptoms of appendicitis are:

  • A dull pain close to the belly button or the upper abdomen that becomes sharper as it moves toward the lower right of the abdomen
  • A fever that tops 99–102 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Feeling like you need to pass gas, but not able to
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting or nausea not long after the abdominal pain begins

Causes and Risk Factors of Appendicitis

Appendicitis can happen to anyone at any age, but teenagers and people in their 20s face the highest risk. About 5% of people will develop appendicitis during their lifetime.

The main cause of appendicitis is a blockage to the appendix. The blockage could be caused by stool, a foreign body, or cancer. In other cases, the appendix can swell in response to an infection anywhere in the body.

Tests and Diagnosis of Appendicitis

Getting a diagnosis for appendicitis can be difficult because the symptoms are close to those of other digestive health conditions, including gallbladder, bladder, or urinary tract issues. Your doctor will use the following tests to try to make an accurate diagnosis for appendicitis:

  • A blood test to check for antibodies, which would indicate the body is fighting off an infection
  • A test to rule out urinary tract infection
  • An abdominal exam to try and identify any inflammation
  • An ultrasound or CT scan
  • Rectal exam

Treatment and Care for Appendicitis

Appendicitis is a medical emergency, and in most cases, the condition requires a surgical procedure called an appendectomy to remove the appendix, as soon as possible. If left untreated, an inflamed appendix will eventually burst and infectious materials will spill into the abdominal cavity. Because of this, doctors usually err on the side of caution and just remove the appendix, if appendicitis is suspected.

If the appendix has developed an abscess, then the doctor will need to drain the abscess, prior to removing the appendix.