According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC), a service of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), appendicitis is the cause of more emergency abdominal surgeries than any other medical condition. Become familiar with the symptoms of appendicitis, as well as its time frame, risks, diagnosis and treatment, so you will seek help before you develop life-threatening complications.
Appendicitis occurs when the appendix, a pouch located in the lower right abdomen and attached to the beginning of the large intestine, becomes inflamed and develops an infection. Normally, the appendix creates mucus that flows through the inside (appendiceal lumen) of the appendix before it empties into the large intestine. When you develop appendicitis, mucus blocks your appendiceal lumen, allowing the multiplication of bacteria that live inside your appendix. This bacteria increase causes swelling and infection.
If you have appendicitis, you will typically develop a distinctive set of symptoms, including abdominal pain, digestive problems and a fever. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia states that mild pain usually starts around the belly button, becoming increasingly uncomfortable as time passes. Other early symptoms include nausea, decreased appetite, vomiting and a slight fever. Eventually, you may notice that the pain moves toward your lower right abdomen. Other symptoms you could experience include shaking, chills, diarrhea or constipation, and a fever.
Progression of Symptoms
According to the Mayo Clinic, appendicitis symptoms usually increase over a period of approximately 12 to 18 hours following infection. The pain will gradually increase as the inflammation worsens. Following this time period, appendicitis symptoms, especially pain, may temporarily lessen when your appendix ruptures from the built-up pressure. However, this allows pus to leak into and infect the abdominal cavity, potentially creating another infection called secondary peritonitis. After just a few hours of relief, pain will typically return and become even more intense as the infection develops and spreads. Left untreated, peritonitis from a ruptured appendix can quickly become life-threatening (causing other complications such as sepsis, an infection of the bloodstream), especially if you have had symptoms for over 48 hours without treatment, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
If you suspect that you have appendicitis symptoms, don't wait to see if your symptoms will get better; contact your doctor immediately for diagnosis. Typically, your doctor will ask about your medical history and symptoms and conduct a physical exam, checking for specific areas of pain in your abdomen; depending upon the severity of your symptoms, your doctor may suggest emergency surgery immediately to avoid having your appendix rupture. Your doctor may also use a variety of tests to determine whether you have appendicitis, including blood tests (to check for infection) and imaging tests (CT scans and ultrasounds).
Treatment for appendicitis symptoms varies, depending upon whether the appendix has burst or not, but includes emergency surgery (appendectomy). If the appendix has burst, an open appendectomy surgery is required, which lets the surgeon view and clean the infected abdominal cavity. Larascopic surgery, a second surgery option available in many situations, is performed using several small incisions instead of one large one. Larascopic surgery typically results in shorter recovery time and has a decreased risk of infection.