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Appendicitis diagnoses and treatment

Recently, a friend of mine told me that her son called her and said he was having some belly pain so he was just going to stay home until it went away.

After she asked a few more questions to learn of his belly pain, she strongly advised him to go to the local Hospital Emergency Department without delay. Fortunately, he listened to his mother’s advice and he was then diagnosed with acute appendicitis and promptly had surgery to remove his appendix.

We all know someone, or perhaps even ourselves, who have been diagnosed with appendicitis, and then had surgery to have their appendix removed. It is important that we understand the usual symptoms of this common medical condition.

If a person has a developing infection in their appendix (appendicitis), and does not seek medical care, it can progress to truly become a life threatening condition. Let’s take a closer look at this potentially very serious surgical health problem.

First of all, recall that the four letters “itis” on the end of a medical word mean inflammation or infection. We are all born with an appendix and this is a small tubular structure that hangs down from the very beginning of the colon located in the lower right side of your belly. It has about a one half inch opening where it is attached to the beginning of the colon, is about two to three inches long, and is closed on the other end. As long as this opening into this small sock-like structure stays open, there is no problem and the intestinal fluids and normal bacteria flow in and out of the appendix all day long. However, if this opening gets blocked off, usually due to unknown reasons, the normal bacteria are now living a closed space and they continue to multiply and swelling and infection will occur. Now we have an infected appendix, or “appendicitis”.

Just how common is this “appendicitis”? It is estimated that there are about 250,000 cases of appendicitis every year in the USA, and current studies show that it will occur in about 7% of our United States population. Appendicitis is rare under age 2 and most commonly is seen between ages 10 and 30. For unknown reasons, it is more common in males than in females.

Following are the typical symptoms of appendicitis. First, a person with appendicitis will feel a vague discomfort and mild pain around the belly button (navel) and the patient always develops a near complete loss of appetite. Usually there is mild nausea, but typically there is no vomiting early on with a developing appendicitis. As the inflammation and swelling of the appendix continues, the appendix pain now moves to the lower right side on the belly as this now-swollen appendix comes into contact with local surrounding structures. We now have a developing condition called localized peritonitis, or inflammation of the lining of the abdominal cavity. The pain is now constant and worsening, usually with a developing fever. Things are now starting to get serious. If this inflamed appendix is not surgically removed, the appendix will continue to swell and will eventually burst. This is known as a ruptured appendix, and the infection will generally now rapidly spread throughout the abdomen. We now have a serious potentially life threatening surgical emergency.

Recall that six letters “ectomy” on the end of a medical word mean “to remove”. Therefore, the treatment of appendicitis is for the surgeon to perform an appendectomy to surgically remove the appendix. Of course, it is much more preferable to diagnose a developing appendicitis and surgically remove the appendix before it progresses to the point of becoming a ruptured appendix that can truly be life threatening.

Bottom line – If a person initially feels a mild pain and discomfort around their belly button that slowly moves down into the lower right side of their belly, then you must seek medical help without delay. Further, the patient with appendicitis will also experience a complete loss of appetite. With this typical history, your health care provider will certainly take measures to accurately diagnose appendicitis and will then recommend urgent surgical treatment for the appendicitis.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Jim Surrell is the author of “The ABC’s For Success In All We Do” and the “SOS (Stop Only Sugar) Diet” books. Contact Dr. Surrell by email at sosdietdoc@gmail.com.


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