Understanding Appendicitis

The appendix is a small, three-and-a-half-inch long tube of tissue that projects out from the colon on the lower right side of the abdomen. Although there is no known essential purpose that the appendix serves, if the appendix becomes inflamed and filled with pus causing appendicitis, the consequences can be deadly unless treated quickly. Appendicitis causes pain that typically starts around the belly button and increases in intensity over a period of between 12 and 18 hours and is a medical emergency that requires surgery, called an appendectomy, to remove the appendix before it ruptures, spilling the contents of the intestines and infectious material into the abdominal cavity. Once that happens, peritonitis, an infection of the abdominal cavity can develop, which can be fatal unless treated promptly with antibiotics.

Other symptoms of appendicitis include:

  • A sharp pain in the lower right abdomen
  • Pain that worsens when you cough or make jarring movements
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Fever
  • Painful urination
  • Abdominal swelling

 See your doctor if you experience any signs that worry you. If you experience abdominal pain that is so severe you cannot sit still or find a comfortable position, seek immediate medical attention. 

Causes of Appendicitis

While the causes of appendicitis aren't always clear, two common causes are a blockage from food waste, fecal stone or cancer; and from an infection, such as a gastrointestinal viral infection. In both cases, bacteria cause the appendix to become inflamed and filled with pus. Most cases of appendicitis occur in people between the ages of 10 and 30.


Surgery to remove the inflamed appendix is the standard treatment for appendicitis. The appendectomy can either be done as open surgery using one abdominal incision between two and four inches long or as a laparoscopic operation involving several small abdominal incisions. Although patients undergoing laparoscopic surgery usually recover faster than patients undergoing an open appendectomy, it isn't appropriate for everyone, for example, if your appendix has ruptured and the infection has spread in which case an open appendectomy is called for. Because the appendix isn't necessary to the body's function, people who have an appendectomy recover fully.

Preventing Appendicitis

Although there is no known way to prevent appendicitis, the condition appears to be less common in people who eat foods high in fiber, including fresh fruits and vegetables, and who maintain a regular exercise program of between 30 and 60 minutes of moderate activity on most days of the week.


Sources: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000256.htm