Appendicitis — what is it?


crutchfieldsquareAppendicitis is a medical emergency that, if left untreated, can be fatal.

The appendix is a small, three-inch tube that is attached to the large intestine on the right side of the lower abdomen. Doctors are not sure what the function of the appendix is, although a long time ago it could have been part of the immune system. No one knows for sure. It is estimated that three to five percent of people will develop appendicitis.

In appendicitis (inflammation of the appendix), the tube (appendix) becomes blocked or twisted, and a secondary bacterial infection occurs. If the infection persists, the appendix may rupture and spill infectious and toxic compounds into the abdomen. This situation can be fatal if not treated promptly.


Signs and symptoms of appendicitis

  • Dull pain near the bellybutton that sharpens and moves to the lower right of the abdomen accompanied by nausea and vomiting. This group of symptoms is often one of the very first signs of appendicitis.
  • Loss of appetite
  • Stomach cramps
  • Strange pain in the back
  • Nausea after the pain starts
  • Vomiting before or after the pain starts
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Fever of 100+ degrees Fahrenheit
  • Decreased ability to pass gas
  • Constipation or diarrhea

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Diagnosis of appendicitis

A doctor will take a history, perform a physical examination, and order certain tests and imaging studies to check to make sure it is actually appendicitis and not a kidney stone, gall bladder infection, urinary tract infection, or any other type of bowel inflammatory disease. They will also check to see if there is a rupture of the appendix or if infection is present.


Treatment of appendicitis

The definitive treatment is surgical removal of the appendix, known as an appendectomy. Your doctor may also prescribe antibiotics. Appendicitis is a medical emergency and must be done promptly once the diagnosis of appendicitis is confirmed. The good news is that we don’t need an appendix, and everyone will live just fine without one if it is removed.


Preventive measures for appendicitis

There is no sure way to prevent appendicitis, but it is known that people whose diets are high in fiber by eating fruits and vegetables will develop appendicitis less often.


If you have any of the symptoms suspicious for appendicitis listed above, seek medical help immediately. The faster, the better. It could be lifesaving.


Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board-certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the U.S. by Black Enterprise magazine and one of the top 21 African American physicians in the U.S. by the Atlanta Post. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians,