The appendix is a small pouch that is attached to the colon. An appendicitis attack occurs when the appendix becomes severely inflamed and also becomes filled with pus. Inflammation may occur as a result of food waste or a fecal stone getting stuck in one of the orifices that are present in the abdominal cavity near the appendix. A gastrointestinal virus may also cause infection that can lead to inflammation. According to the Mayo Clinic, appendicitis attacks are most common in individuals between ages 10 and 30. The most effective treatment for an appendicitis attack is surgical removal of the appendix.
The primary symptom associated with an appendicitis attack is severe pain. Usually an aching pain is first felt around the navel area and then later on the right side of the lower abdomen. Eventually, the pain settles near the appendix. The appendix is located at the McBurney point, which is about midway between the right pelvic bone and the navel. However, the location of the pain may be different. Pregnant women and small children, especially, may feel appendicitis pain in other parts of the abdomen. The pain gradually intensifies over a time period lasting anywhere from six to 12 hours.
The area near the appendix will usually be tender to the touch. Abrupt movements, walking and coughing may make the pain more intense. Pain may be alleviated somewhat by lying on the side while bringing the knees up to the chest. The abdominal tenderness may be especially excessive if the appendix is pressing against the peritoneum. The peritoneum is the inner abdominal wall’s membrane lining.
An appendicitis attack may cause stomach problems. The affected individual may experience nausea and may even vomit. Also, the individual may have constipation or diarrhea. In addition, the individual may not be able to pass gas as usual and may not have an appetite.
Sometimes the appendix can rupture, causing intestinal contents to spill out into the abdominal cavity. This can lead to a cavity lining infection know as peritonitis. Initially, an individual who experiences a rupture may feel better. However, within a short amount of time the condition will worsen. The individual will likely experience all-over abdominal pain, fever and increased thirst. The severe inflammation may make it impossible to have a bowel movement and it may decrease the output of urine. The abdomen will likely become severely swollen and be extremely tender. Peritonitis requires emergency medical treatment.
Diagnosis and Treatment
A physician will usually thoroughly examine the abdominal area. A blood test may be used to check for inflammation. Also, an x-ray, ultrasound or a CT scan will typically be used to confirm an appendicitis diagnosis. If an appendicitis is detected early, the removal of the appendix will be performed immediately. However, if the symptoms have been ongoing for several days, an immediate removal of the appendix is not recommended. In this case, antibiotics will be used to treat the condition temporarily and the removal of the appendix will be completed a few months later if possible. However, if the situation become critical, removal of the appendix will be performed promptly.