The appendix is a small, tube-like organ that hangs from the large intestine. Appendicitis is inflammation of the appendix. The appendix has no known function.
Appendicitis usually occurs when the appendix becomes inflamed. This can be caused by something trapped in the appendix, such as:
The lining of the appendix continues to produce mucus. It has no place to go. Bacteria normally found in the intestines build up and make toxins in the lining of the appendix. Pressure builds and causes severe pain in the abdomen. The wall of the appendix can break open. The contents of a ruptured appendix can spill into the abdominal cavity. This causes serious redness and swelling. This is called peritonitis. It can be fatal.
Risk factors that can increase your chance of developing appendicitis include:
Symptoms usually happen quickly. Pain usually increases during a 6-12 hour period. Patients may have some or all of the following symptoms:
If the appendix ruptures, symptoms include:
Note: Symptoms may be different in infants, children, pregnant women, and the elderly.
Get medical help right away, if you have severe pain in the abdomen. Appendicitis can be hard to diagnose. Symptoms vary and can be similar to symptoms of other diseases.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done, including:
Other tests to determine the cause of your pain may include:
Appendicitis is treated by surgically removing the appendix as soon as possible. Sometimes the diagnosis is not certain. The doctor will carefully monitor your condition for 6-12 hours before operating. You will also be given antibiotics to fight infection.
Follow your doctor's instructions if you are diagnosed with appendicitis.
American College of Surgeons
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse
Appendectomy. American College of Surgeons website. Available at: http://www.facs.org/public_info/operation/brochures/app.pdf. Accessed November 8, 2012.
Appendicitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated October 17, 2012. Accessed November 8, 2012.
Appendicitis. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/appendicitis/. Updated February 16, 2012. Accessed November 8, 2012.
Diagnosis of appendicitis in emergency departments. Am Fam Physician. 2003;67:2390.
JAMA patient page: appendicitis. JAMA. 1999;282:1102.
Rosen P, et al. Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 4th ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby-Year Book, Inc; 1998.
7/13/2007 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Styrud J, Eriksson S, Nilsson I, et al. Appendectomy versus antibiotic treatment in acute appendicitis. a prospective multicenter randomized controlled trial. World J Surg. 2006;30:1033-1037.
Last reviewed November 2012 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.