Because doctors are still trying to work out exactly what the purpose of the appendix is, it can sometimes be hard to determine what causes an individual case of appendicitis. The most common types of known causes include obstructions and infections. In an obstruction, a hard piece of stool known as a fecal stone or food waste, can block the opening of a cavity that runs along the length of the appendix, causing inflammation. In an infection, such as gastrointestinal viral infection, the development of pus and inflammation can occur. Bacteria located inside of the appendix can rapidly multiple, which causes the inflammation, swelling and the development of pus.
There are two serious complications that can occur as a result of untreated appendicitis. The first is a ruptured appendix, which would cause the contents of the intestines and infectious organisms to leak into the abdominal cavity, which can cause Peritonitis, an infection in the abdominal cavity. Peritonitis can potentially cause harm to other vital organs in the body. The second complication is that a pocket of pus could potentially form within the abdomen. This pocket of infection is known as an Appendiceal Abscess, and if it were to tear or rupture, could cause a serious widespread infection in the abdominal cavity. As such, prompt treatment of appendicitis is absolutely important.
The signs and symptoms associated with appendicitis include an aching pain beginning around the navel and shifting down to the lower right abdomen, pain that becomes increasingly sharp over time and tenderness in the lower right abdomen. Symptoms also include: rebound tenderness, nausea, vomiting, a low grade fever, loss of appetite, inability to pass gas, diarrhea, constipation and swelling in the abdomen. The location of the pain experienced can actually vary depending on where the appendix is in the body as well as the age of the patient. Young children, for example, as well as pregnant women, can experience appendicitis pain in different places than other individuals.
A physician will perform a medical examination to assess the pain, including putting pressure on the abdominal area experiencing pain. The physician may also utilize blood, urine and imagining tests such as X-rays, ultrasound scan and computerized tomography or CT scan, in order to confirm the presence of appendicitis or to locate a different cause for the pain.
The only way to treat appendicitis properly is to remove the appendix. Because the appendix does not have any known usage, this is also the most advantageous way to treat appendicitis. If an abscess is present, it may need to be drained prior to surgery. Once the infection has is under control, the physician will perform an appendectomy to remove the appendix entirely.