Straight, No Chaser: Appendicitis – A Whole Lot over Quite a Little…
There’s not much that causes as much legitimate angst in parents as a child with appendicitis. In case you don’t know what the fuss is all about, the appendix is a 3 1/2 inch pouch on the edge of the large intestine near the right lower part of your abdomen. It’s actually like a long, skinny skin tag that (as best as we know) has no purpose other than to seemingly get inflamed, rupture and require surgery. The problem with it is that it’s a pouch (Pouches are bad things in the body. They always seem to twist or otherwise get blocked, leading to problems. This happens with aneurysms and hemorrhoids; twisting otherwise occurs with torsion of ovarian cysts or the testes. These stories don’t end well.). This particular pouch has the misfortune of being filled with stool, so if it gets sufficiently blocked or inflamed to the point where it ruptures, your abdomen will contain loose stool, which as you can imagine will cause a nasty infection rapidly (This is called peritonitis.). Appendicitis is a surgical emergency, because left untreated, the peritonitis caused by rupture will lead to septic shock.
Appendicitis is very common, occurring in one of fifteen individuals, usually between ages 10-30. It is more dangerous in the young and old, because they are both less able to describe symptoms and more likely to have abnormal presentations. Both of these scenarios lead to delayed diagnosis and treatment, which as you might imagine, doesn’t give patients the best opportunity for good outcomes.
Symptoms classically involve abdominal pain, followed by nausea, vomiting and fever, although other symptoms involving the digestive and urinary systems may be present. Often, the pain begins near the umbilicus (belly button) and seemingly migrates to the right lower portion of the abdomen. The pain may lead to a ‘board-like’ feel of the abdomen. This is a bad sign when it happens.
Treatment involves surgery (an appendectomy) in the overwhelming majority of cases. Your job is to maintain a high level of suspicion and remember a few very important pearls of wisdom. First is seek medical attention without delay. Also, don’t eat, drink or take any medicine if you think this is what’s going on. Surgery requires an empty stomach, and certain medicines may mask the pain (leading to diagnostic difficulties) or facilitate early rupture of the appendix. In case you were wondering, there’s no definitive way to prevent appendicitis, but it is less frequent in those on high fiber diets. Score another point for fruits and vegetables.
I welcome any questions or comments you may have.
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