Appendicitis

What Is It?

Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix, a small, fingerlike tube that hangs from the lower right side of the large intestine. The purpose of the appendix is not known. It usually becomes inflamed because of an infection or an obstruction in the digestive tract. If untreated, an infected appendix can burst and spread the infection throughout the abdominal cavity and into the bloodstream.

Appendicitis affects 1 in every 500 people in the United States each year. The risk of appendicitis increases with age, peaking between ages 15 and 30. Appendicitis is the main reason for abdominal surgery in children, with four of every 1,000 children needing the appendix removed before age 14.

Symptoms

Symptoms of appendicitis include:

  • Abdominal pain, usually starting just above the belly button and then moving to the right lower side of the abdomen

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Abdominal swelling

  • Pain when the right side of the abdomen is touched

  • Low-grade fever

  • Inability to pass gas

  • Change in normal bowel pattern

If you have symptoms of appendicitis, do not take enemas or laxatives to relieve constipation: These medicines increase the chance that the appendix will burst. Also, avoid taking pain-relief medicines before seeing your doctor, because these medications can mask appendicitis symptoms and make diagnosis difficult.

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