The appendix plays a role in digestion in other animals, but in humans its role is less clear and we can survive without it. The appendix can become inflamed, which is a condition known as appendicitis.

What is appendicitis?

Appendicitis is the inflammation of the appendix, which is a small tube growing out of the large intestine. If you have appendicitis, it is a medical emergency and may require surgery.

Are children more likely to experience appendicitis?

Appendicitis can happen at any age, however it is more common in young people and children. It is more uncommon for people over the age of 30 to develop appendicitis. There is no known reason for this.

How common is it?

In 2017-18 appendicitis was one of the top three reasons for an emergency hospital admission involving surgery.

Symptoms and diagnosis

Symptoms may include fever, vomiting, diarrhoea or constipation, loss of appetite and a dull pain around your belly button, which progresses to a sharp pain in the lower right side of your abdomen. Less commonly, you may have pain in your lower back, hamstrings or rectum.

Although appendicitis can mimic other disorders such as gastroenteritis, ectopic pregnancy and urinary tract infection, it is through careful consideration of the symptoms and a physical exam that doctors can usually diagnose appendicitis. If the diagnosis is still not clear, then doctors may order scans (such as a CT or ultrasound) and run other lab tests. Despite modern technology, appendicitis can still be a challenge to diagnose given it effects all age groups.

“Seek medical advice if you have persistent abdominal pain, localised abdominal pain and/or increasing severe abdominal pain”

Even if there is no firm diagnosis, Doctors will tend to err on the side of caution and consider careful hospital observation allowing repeat examination or consider operating.

Treatment and recovery

The treatment for appendicitis is the complete removal of your appendix, which is known as an appendectomy. This can often be done through keyhole surgery (where a tiny incision is made to reach the organs)—and if not, a small incision is made in the lower abdomen for the doctor to remove the appendix through. If the appendix has burst, the surgeon will drain the abdominal cavity of the excess fluid through a tube. The patient will be given antibiotics to reduce the chance of an infection.

The hospital stay for an appendectomy is between three and five days and the removal of your appendix has no short or long term effects on digestion.

Signs your appendix may burst, timeframe for ruptures and what happens if it does burst?

The severe worsening of symptoms could be a sign that your appendix has burst. Perforation can occur anytime, but chances usually increase after 36 hours from the onset of symptoms. Once burst, the appendix allows infected matter to fill your abdomen. This causes further inflammation, which, without immediate treatment, could be life threatening.

Need to visit the emergency department?

There are emergency departments at Epworth Geelong and Epworth Richmond. Epworth Richmond’s emergency department runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and annually treats over 29,000 patients. Epworth Geelong’s emergency department runs seven days a week, and operates from 8am to midnight.

There are also gastroenterology units at Epworth Richmond, Eastern and Freemasons.

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