Located on the lower right quadrant of your abdomen is a 3-inch tube called your appendix. Attached to your intestines, this small organ has no use to the body, but when infected or inflamed, it can become quite deadly. When this happens to the appendix it is known as a disorder called appendicitis. Appendicitis is most frequently found in 12- to 30-year-olds, but can be experienced at any age. As long as the problem is diagnosed quickly, the appendix can usually be surgically removed without issue.
How It Occurs
Appendicitis occurs mainly for two reasons. The first of these reasons is from a blockage inside the appendix. The most likely culprit for this cause is feces that has found its way into the appendix, but is unable to get out. The feces invites infection into the appendix which causes inflammation. If the inflammation is not caught in time, the appendix may burst, exploding the infection into the surrounding area. The second reason for appendicitis is a digestive track infection. If the digestive tract experiences a viral or bacterial infection, the lymph nodes in the surrounding area will swell. Many times the swelling can block the appendix, causing it to become inflamed. In rare circumstances, a problem may also be caused by an encroaching tumor.
The main danger of appendicitis comes from the appendix bursting or from abscesses forming outside the appendix walls. In either case, the appendix is cut off from its normal blood supply. Without fresh blood the appendix becomes unable to fight infection. As the infection worsens, the walls of the appendix become gangrenous. This builds up pressure from within the appendix, while at the same time wears down the strength of its walls. Once the gangrene breaks through the walls of the appendix it spreads the infection to the surrounding area. If left untreated, the infection will continue to spread until the patient dies.
Most symptoms for adult appendicitis revolve around sensations of pain. This pain will normally originate around the belly button, and then slowly migrate half way between the belly button and the right lower quadrant of the abdomen. As the infection worsens, the pain will also increase. The pain will worsen with movement, or from natural body reactions, such as coughing or sneezing. The pain symptoms will continue to accelerate from 12 to 24 hours after the first signs.
Though not extreme, an increased temperature or fever will usually accompany the pain as a sign of appendicitis. Most patients will not experience a temperature more than 102 degrees F. Accompanying the fever will also be a lack of appetite, and in many cases nausea symptoms, such as vomiting or an upset stomach.
Blood Cell Counts
Once the body detects an infection in the body, it will naturally start increasing the amount of blood cells within the body to fight off the infected appendix. This is why many doctors will run a blood test to help diagnose the appendicitis. If the white blood cell count comes back higher than normal, it can help confirm the other symptoms are being caused by an infected appendix.