Appendicitis is a very painful swelling of the appendix. The appendix is located in the lower body, connected to the large intestine, where stools are formed. It is a small, thin pouch, measuring around 5-10cm (2-4 inches) in length.
It is not actually known, even by medical professionals, why the human body requires an appendix or what it’s functions is. What is known is that it is not harmful to remove it and it does not change the functioning of the body to do so.
Symptoms of appendicitis
The initial sign of appendicitis is a pain in the middle of the stomach (abdomen). This pain may come and go in intervals.
After a few hours, the pain usually becomes more frequent and moves to the lower right-hand side of the body. This is where the appendix is usually located. This pain as well as becoming constant, becomes severe.
Pressing down, even lightly, coughing, laughing, walking or any movement at all, all are said to make the pain more intense.
Typical symptoms of appendicitis include:
- Feeling sick (nausea)
- Loss of appetite
- A high fever and a flushed face
When to get medical help
Appendicitis can be life threatening if left untreated, but when treated it is a fairly routine surgery. It is extremely rare in today’s world that a case of appendicitis will result in death. So, as long as you seek medical attention, there should be nothing to worry about in terms of long-term health problems or the threat of death.
If you are experiencing abdominal pain that is coming and going and gradually getting more severe, you must contact your or local out-of-hours clinic immediately. Alternatively, call 111 on the NHS and they can arrange an appointment for you if they deem it necessary and you feel unable to do so.
Please be aware that appendicitis can easily be confused with other problems, but you must still seek medical attention to rule out the possibility of appendicitis. It may be confused with:
- A severe case of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- A bladder in function or UTI
- Pelvic infection
- Crohn’s disease
In women of a young age, these symptoms can sometimes have a gynaecological cause, such as an ectopic pregnancy or menstrual pain.
As stated, any condition that is causing you constant stomach pain requires medical attention.
If the pain suddenly becomes worse and spreads across your abdomen, you should call 999 for an ambulance as this is a sign that the appendix has burst, which can be very dangerous.
In almost every case of appendicitis, the appendix will have to surgically removed as soon as is possible to do so. This operation is known as an appendectomy and is fairly routine depending on individual circumstances.
It is normal that surgery may be recommended to remove your appendix if there is a chance you have appendicitis but there has not yet been a clear diagnosis. It is considered safer to completely remove the appendix than potentially allow the appendix to burst if you were to leave it untreated. This is because, the appendix does not have a known function in the human body and having it removed is believed to make no difference to the health of your body.
The surgery is done under general anaesthetic, using either a keyhole or open technique depending on the situation.
Keyhole is the preferred method of removing the appendix as the recovery is typically shorter and the scar is much less noticeable afterwards.
The operation involves making a few small incisions in the abdomen, where special instruments are then inserted, which include:
- A tube to pump gas to inflate your abdomen, this allows the surgeon to get a clearer visual on your appendix and gives them more room to work.
- A laparoscope – a small tube with contains a source of light and a camera. These relay images of the inside of the abdomen to a television monitor.
- Surgical tools which are then used to remove the appendix.
In some circumstances, open surgery is the better option. This may because, the appendix has burst, the surgeon has little experienced using a laparoscopic method of removal, or the person undergoing the surgery may have previously had open abdominal surgery.
This operation involves a single, larger cut in the lower right-hand side of the abdomen to then remove the appendix.
In most cases, patients can go home after 24 hours following their surgery. However, people who have open surgery can be kept in around a week.
For the first few days post-op, you are likely to feel tenderness and bruising in the abdominal area. However, this will not take too long to improve. You will be given strong painkillers for this also.
If you had keyhole, you may feel pain the tip of your shoulder caused by the gas that was pumped into the appendix.
You may experience some constipation for a short amount of time following the operation. You can get remedies for this if it becomes too much of a bother while recovering, ask your GP.
For more information about treating this, feel free to contact us here.