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Digestive Health

Tummy Troubles: Is it Your Appendix?

Medical Reviewer:

Eric Lemmer, MD, PhD

Medically Reviewed On: November 17, 2013

Most people remember a time when they clutched their belly and wondered if their pain was coming from their appendix. After all, no one is comfortable with the thought of something exploding inside their body. And a century ago, appendicitis, which occurs when the appendix becomes inflamed and can lead to the rupture of this tiny appendage, was often life threatening. Today, appendicitis is easily treated with surgery as long as people don’t wait too long to get help. No one really knows what function the appendix serves in the body, but the removal of this body part doesn’t seem to cause problems.

Since this condition usually develops over the course of a few hours, it’s important for people to be aware of its signs and symptoms. Although appendicitis can affect anyone, it usually occurs in people between the ages of 15 and 44, and women are more likely to experience it than men. Below, Dr. Barry McKernan, a surgeon in private practice in Woodstock, Georgia, discusses appendicitis symptoms and the types of surgery that are used to treat it.

What is the appendix?
It’s a small appendage about the size of your little finger off of the beginning of the colon. This appendage might play a role in immunity, but doctors don’t fully understand its function.

What is appendicitis?
It’s an inflammation of the appendix. Anytime there’s infection in the abdomen like appendicitis, you must drain it or get rid of it. The surgery is not a complicated operation unless people wait too long to get help and have formed complications.

What are the signs and symptoms of appendicitis?
It really depends on the age group. Generally, it starts off with an uncomfortable feeling in your abdomen. Normally, the initial pain is around the navel. Inside the body, it is not uncommon for pain to be referred to another area. In other words, outside pain doesn’t always correspond to the exact location inside the body.

Early on, people experience a loss of appetite, though not necessarily nausea and vomiting. Over the next 6 to 14 hours, the pain slowly migrates down to the right lower side because the appendix starts to inflame the lining of the abdomen around it. And that’s why people then have tenderness in that area.

At what point should someone go to the emergency room?
If you push on your abdomen and it hurts, go to the emergency room.

How is appendicitis diagnosed?
Basically if you’ve have tenderness in the right lower quadrant with abdominal pain and an elevated white blood cell count, it probably appendicitis.

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