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Recently a friend of mine told me that her son called her and told her that he had a stomach ache so he was going to stay home until it was gone.
After asking a few more questions to find out about her stomach pain, she strongly advised him to go to the emergency department at the local hospital as soon as possible. Fortunately, he listened to his mother’s advice and was then diagnosed with acute appendicitis and promptly had surgery to remove his appendix.
We all know someone, or maybe even ourselves, who has been diagnosed with appendicitis and then had surgery to remove their appendix. It is important that we understand the usual symptoms of this common medical condition.
If a person has a developing infection in their appendix (appendicitis) and does not seek medical attention, it can develop into a truly life-threatening illness. Let’s take a closer look at this potentially very serious surgical health issue.
Let us first remember that the four letters “It is” at the end of a medical word means inflammation or infection. We are all born with an appendix and it is a small tubular structure that hangs down from the very beginning of the colon located in the lower right part of your belly. It has an opening of about a half inch where it is attached at the beginning of the colon, is about two to three inches long, and is closed at the other end. As long as this opening in this little sock-like structure remains open, there is no problem and normal intestinal fluids and bacteria come in and out of the appendix throughout the day. However, if this opening is blocked, usually for some unknown reason, normal bacteria now live in a closed space and they continue to multiply and swelling and infection will occur. Now we have an infected appendix, or “appendicitis”.
How common is this “appendicitis”? It is estimated that there are approximately 250,000 cases of appendicitis each year in the United States, and current studies show that it will occur in approximately 7% of our population in the United States. Appendicitis is rare before the age of 2 and is most often seen between 10 and 30 years old. For unknown reasons, it is more common in men than in women.
Here are the typical symptoms of appendicitis. First, a person with appendicitis will experience vague discomfort and slight pain around the navel, and the patient will still develop almost complete loss of appetite. Usually there is mild nausea, but usually there is no vomiting at first with developing appendicitis. As the inflammation and swelling of the appendix continues, the pain in the appendix now moves to the lower right side of the belly as this now swollen appendix comes in contact with local surrounding structures. We now have a developing disease called localized peritonitis, or inflammation of the lining of the abdominal cavity. The pain is now constant and worsens, usually with a developing fever. Things are now starting to get serious. If this inflamed appendix is not surgically removed, the appendix will continue to swell and eventually burst. This is called a ruptured appendix, and the infection now usually spreads rapidly throughout the abdomen. We now have a serious, life-threatening surgical emergency.
Recall that six letters “ectomy” at the end of a medical word means “to withdraw”. Therefore, the treatment for appendicitis involves the surgeon performing an appendectomy to surgically remove the appendix. Of course, it’s much better to diagnose developing appendicitis and have the appendix surgically removed before it progresses to the point of becoming a really life-threatening appendix rupture.
Bottom line – If a person initially feels slight pain and discomfort around their belly button which slowly descends to the lower right part of their tummy, then you need to see a doctor right away. In addition, the patient with appendicitis will also experience complete loss of appetite. With this typical history, your healthcare provider will likely take steps to accurately diagnose appendicitis and then recommend urgent surgical treatment for appendicitis.