Appendix Pain: The Causes and Dangers

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Appendix Pain: Summary and Overview

Appendix pain is caused by a serious health problem: appendicitis. It is triggered when the opening of the appendix becomes blocked, which causes the organ to fill with mucus and swell. There are several reasons why a blockage can occur, including trauma, intestinal worms, or a stool or foreign body that clogs the organ’s opening. Whatever the reason, the pain begins mid-stomach and migrates to the lower right abdomen within a few hours. Appendicitis is a medical emergency, and so understanding your symptoms, and how they differ from a regular stomachache or other abdominal pain, will help you know whether or not to seek immediate help.

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Appendix Pain: Causes

So how can your appendix become blocked? There are several causes:

The appendix is a small finger-like pouch attached to the large intestine, and so fecal matter can become wedged from the gut. The stool hardens and becomes rock-like, known as a fecalith (literally a rock of stool). Parasites or growths can also obstruct the organ.

Other causes include an infection in the gut or elsewhere. This causes the lymph tissue in appendix’s wall to swell. Trauma to the abdomen can also cause the illness. Bowel diseases, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis can also lead to appendicitis.

Appendix Pain: Symptoms

The symptoms of appendicitis can vary. The first symptom is often pain around your belly button. The pain may be minor at first, and often comes in waves, but it becomes more sharp and severe. The pain can be worse when moving around, taking deep breaths, coughing, or sneezing. It is often intense, and can feel unlike any other pain felt before. 

As the swelling in the appendix increases, the pain tends to move into your right lower abdomen. It focuses right above the appendix at a place called McBurney’s point, between the right hip and the bellybutton.

Other symptoms can include chills, constipation, diarrhea, low-grade fever, nausea, loss of appetite, shaking and vomiting, inability to pass gas, frequent urination, and abdominal swelling.

Left untreated, an inflamed appendix may eventually burst or perforate. Rupturing spreads infection throughout the abdomen—a potentially dangerous condition called peritonitis (sometimes it can wall itself off and calcify).

The symptoms of appendicitis can be similar to other gastro-intestinal conditions. Because of the commonality of the symptoms, surgeons find a normal appendix in 3 out of 10 operations.

Appendix Pain: Diagnostic Tests

Your doctor will likely give you a physical exam, and ask about the location, severity and when the pain began. Telling your doctor when other symptoms, if any, appeared relative to the pain is also helpful. During the examination, your doctor may apply gentle pressure to the painful area. When the pressure is suddenly released, appendicitis pain will often feel worse, signaling that the adjacent peritoneum (the lining of the abdominal cavity) is inflamed.

Your doctor may also perform a blood test to check whether your white blood cell count is higher, which may indicate an infection. Urine tests can also be performed to ensure that a urinary tract infection or a kidney stone isn’t causing your pain.

In addition, your doctor may also recommend an abdominal X-ray, ultrasound scan or computerized tomography (CT) scan to help confirm appendicitis or find other causes of your pain.

Appendix Pain: Treatment Options:

Typically, appendicitis is treated through surgery. Removal of the appendix is called an appendectomy. A common surgery, the success rate is excellent.

There is a small group of patients in whom the inflammation and infection of appendicitis remain mild and localized to a small area. In these cases, the body can contain and resolve the inflammation with the use of antibiotics alone. These patients usually are not very ill and improve during several days of medication and observation. This type of appendicitis is referred to as “confined appendicitis. The appendix may or may not be removed at a later time.

Appendectomies are generally done through keyhole (laparoscopic) surgery. This uses several small incisions and special surgical tools fed through the incisions to remove the appendix. However, open surgery or laparotomy tends to be used for people whose appendix has burst, those who have had stomach cancer, women in their first trimester of pregnancy, or people who have tumours in their digestive system.

With adequate care, most people recover from appendicitis and do not need to make changes to diet, exercise, or lifestyle. Full recovery from surgery takes about 4 to 6 weeks. Limiting physical activity during this time will allow tissues to heal.

Appendix Pain: Prevention

There is no proven way to prevent appendicitis. But eating a high fiber diet will improve the health of your gut, and help bowel regularity, which lowers your overall risk. Most Americans eat less than the recommended daily dose of fiber. Eating plenty of fruits and leafy vegetables daily can reduce your risk factor and benefit overall health.

Appendix Pain: Overview

Appendicitis is a common condition characterized mainly by acute abdominal pain. It is a serious health problem and doctors will prescribe surgery as soon as possible to prevent the appendix becoming further inflamed and rupturing

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