For years, the appendix was credited with very little function. But now there is adequate evidence that the appendix serves an important role in the fetus and in young adults. Specific cells which appear in the appendix of the human fetus at around the 11th week of the developmental stage have been shown to produce various essential compounds that control biological mechanisms in the developing baby. Among adult humans also, the appendix is now thought to be involved in some immune functions.
Appendicitis is the inflammation and swelling of the appendix, a small tube like structure protruding from the large intestine. It occurs when the appendix gets blocked with stool or foreign particles passing through the intestine. Blockage may cause infection which results in painful swelling of the appendix. ‘If left alone, the appendix does not cause any problems,’ says Dr Kukreja.
Appendicitis the inflammation and swelling of the appendix, a small tube like structure protruding from the large intestine. It occurs when the appendix gets blocked with stool or foreign particles passing through the intestine. Blockage may cause infection which results in painful swelling of the appendix. ‘If left alone, the appendix does not cause any problems,’ says Dr Kukreja.
Anyone can suffer from appendicitis. ‘The highest incidence of appendicitis is found in individuals aged 10-19 years. Also, males have more likely to suffer than females for all age groups (overall rate ratio, 1.4:1),’ says Dr Kukreja.
The initial symptom of appendicitis is pain in the lower abdominal region on the right hand side. The pain is sharp and intense. It originates from the navel (middle of the abdomen) and gradually starts worsening over 6-24 hours. Other symptoms include:
Most of the initial symptoms of appendicitis overlap with the symptoms of other gastrointestinal problems. Moreover there is no definitive or test that can confirm appendicitis.
The doctor first does a physical examination to assess pain. A blood test that shows increased count of white blood cells (WBCs) may indicate infection.
The doctor may also recommend a CT scan or an X-ray to confirm appendicitis. Read more about ultrasound safer than CT scans or X-rays to confirm or rule out appendicitis.
‘Appendectomy remains the only curative treatment of appendicitis but antibiotics do play an important role in the treatment of patients with this acute appendicitis. The duration of the administration of antibiotics is closely related to the stage of appendicitis at the time of the diagnosis,’ says Dr Kukreja.
Read about why treatment of appendicitis is the key to fighting its complications.
If diagnosis of appendicitis takes a longer time, the pain may become severe as the infection spreads. If not treated at the right time, the appendix may burst to release the pus to surrounding areas, which can be life-threatening. Sometimes, a tender mass of pus (abscess) may form around the burst appendix.
Although appendicitis cannot be prevented, studies have shown that the incidence of appendicitis is a lot lower in countries where a high-fiber diet is common. Here are 10 reasons you should eat fibre-rich foods.
The content has been verified by Dr Ajit Naniksingh Kukreja, laparoscopic GI & colorectal surgeon, Ahmedabad.