Written by Gary Presant, MD
Monday, 05 October 2009
Appendicitis is an infection of a small section of the bowel called the appendix.
What is going on in the body?
The appendix is a pouch at the junction of the small and large intestines. It is the size of a small finger. The pouch is lined with a mucous membrane that produces a clear secretion. This organ has no known function. One theory, though, is that it plays a role in the immune system very early in life.
Partly digested food and liquids traveling through the bowel pass in and out of the pouch. If this flow is blocked, bacteria trapped in the appendix may multiply. This is thought to cause appendicitis.
What are the causes and risks of the infection?
Appendicitis occurs when bowel contents that flow into the appendix are blocked and cannot flow out. Normal intestinal bacteria get trapped and multiply. The appendix becomes swollen and infected. The blockage may be due to very thick bowel contents or another obstruction. While cancer of the appendix is very rare, the block is occasionally due to a (benign) noncancerous tumor called a carcinoid.
What are the treatments for the infection?
Surgery to remove the appendix is called an appendectomy. Antibiotics may be given to prevent or treat infection. A ruptured appendix may require more extensive surgery. As many as one in five people with appendicitis end up with an abdominal abscess, or pus pocket.
What are the side effects of the treatments?
Surgery can cause bleeding, infection, or allergic reaction to anesthesia.
What happens after treatment for the infection?
After surgery for uncomplicated appendicitis, most people are discharged from the hospital in 24 to 36 hours. They can usually return to normal activities in less than two weeks.