The Appendix and Appendicitis

The appendix is a small tube-like appendage, resembling a finger or a worm, about four inches long, attached to and protruding from the large intestine on the lower right side of the abdomen. The exact function or purpose of the appendix is unknown.

Appendicitis occurs when the appendix becomes infected. This may be caused by a blockage in the lining of the appendix – often due to feces or a foreign object, or in some cases, a tumor. Bacteria cause the appendix to become swollen, inflamed, enlarged and filled with pus. An appendectomy is required to remove a diseased appendix. Appendectomies are the most common of all emergency room surgeries, with an estimated 250,000 performed yearly.

Symptoms of Appendicitis

Appendicitis is often difficult to diagnose, and as such, requires an extremely thorough examination from an attentive medical provider. Common symptoms include:

  • Various degrees and types of pain, often mild at first, mimicking a stomach ache;
  • Pain may first be felt around the navel;
  • Loss of appetite, mild fever, vomiting, nausea;
  • 12 to 24 hours after onset of symptoms, the pain becomes intense, sharp, severe and compelling;
  • Frequently, the pain is felt right above the appendix at McBurney’s Point;
  • Other symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, chills, fever, and vomiting;
  • In many cases the appendix ruptures (perforates); temporary relief may be felt but pain quickly increases;
  • Perforation can and does often result in sepsis and death.

Thorough Diagnostic Testing is Absolutely Essential for Proper Diagnosis

When a patient presents with abdominal pain – particularly with an associated fever – the patient should be considered to have appendicitis until and unless it is ruled out. Your medical professional has a duty to conduct a complete and thorough medical evaluation. This includes, but certainly is not limited to:

  • Complete medical history;
  • Thorough description and history of present abdominal pain and associated symptoms;
  • Physical examination and ancillary testing:
  • CBC, urinalysis, CRP, plain abdominal radiographs, ultrasound, abdominal CT;
  • Any and all tests necessary to diagnose, confirm or rule out appendicitis.