Answers FAQ

Appendicitis FAQs

Reviewed by John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

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Q:Where is the appendix located in the body?

A:The appendix is a small, tube-shaped organ located in the lower right portion of the abdomen, where the small intestine and large intestine (colon) meet.

The function of the appendix is unknown. Many believe it is a vestigial organ (one we used to need but no longer do), while some scientists theorize it may store beneficial bacteria that can aid in digestion.

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Q:What is appendicitis?

A:Appendicitis is defined as inflammation of the appendix.

If the appendix becomes infected with bacteria, viruses, or fungus it can become inflamed, resulting in appendicitis. It can sometimes be difficult to diagnose appendicitis because the symptoms of appendicitis and pain in the abdomen can often resemble other health conditions that affect nearby organs.

According to The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, appendicitis is the most common cause of acute abdominal pain requiring surgery in the U.S., affecting 5% of Americans.

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Q:There is no clear cause of appendicitis. True or false?

A:True. There are many possible causes of appendicitis, including:

- Blockage of the opening inside the appendix, which causes the bacteria inside to invade the walls of the appendix
- Fecal matter (fecaliths, or "appendix stones"), parasites, or growths that can clog your appendiceal lumen
- Infection in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract
- Inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis
- Abdominal trauma or injury

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Q:What are symptoms of appendicitis?

A:Symptoms of appendicitis progress over several hours to a couple of days, and usually begin with mild pain near the belly button that moves to the lower right quadrant of the belly and becomes sharper.

This pain usually is worse when you try to move, take deep breaths, or cough and sneeze. Sometimes the pain occurs suddenly, and it can be very severe, different from other abdominal pain you've felt before.

Other symptoms of appendicitis that accompany the abdominal pain include:

- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Abdominal bloating or swelling
- Constipation, diarrhea, and gas (or an inability to pass gas)
- Fever
- Feeling like a bowel movement will relieve the pain
- Pain elsewhere in the abdomen, or pain in the back or rectal area
- Indigestion
- Painful urination
- General feeling of being unwell (malaise)
Loss of appetite, abdominal tenderness and Abdominal pain, fever, vomiting. Symptoms of appendicitis may take 4 to 48 hours to develop. Early symptoms are often hard to separate from other conditions including gastroenteritis. Classic symptoms of appendicitis include: - Dull pain or tenderness near the navel or the upper or lower abdomen that becomes sharp as it moves to the lower right abdomen - Loss of appetite - Nausea and/or vomiting soon after abdominal pain begins - Abdominal swelling - Low-grade fever - Constipation or diarrhea with gas Almost half the time other symptoms appear, including: - Dull or sharp pain anywhere in the upper or lower abdomen, back, or rectum - Painful urination - Vomiting that precedes the abdominal pain

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Q:Appendicitis is a medical emergency. True or false?

A:True. Appendicitis is a medical emergency. If you are experiencing any symptoms you think might be appendicitis, go to an emergency department or call 911 immediately.

If you have appendicitis you will likely need emergency surgery to remove the appendix (an appendectomy).

Removal of the appendix reduces the chance of having a ruptured (burst) appendix. The appendix is removed using laparoscopic surgery or a laparotomy, both of which involve smaller incisions and shorter recovery time.

In some instances of mild appendicitis, it may be treated with antibiotics alone, though the standard treatment for appendicitis remains an appendectomy.

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Q:Appendicitis can be fatal. True or false?

A:True. Appendicitis is a medical emergency because if untreated it can be fatal.

The appendix houses bacteria, which are normally harmless, but with appendicitis this bacteria attacks the walls of the appendix. Untreated, the appendix wall can rupture, allowing the contents of the appendix to leak into the surrounding tissue and cause a condition called peritonitis, or inflammation of the lining of the abdomen. This can lead to sepsis (which is the body going into overdrive to fight off the infection), organ failure, and death.

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Q:Who is most likely to develop appendicitis?

A:Appendicitis is most common in people between the ages of 10 to 30 years, with the highest incidence in persons age 10 to 19.

There are about 250,000 cases of appendicitis each year in the U.S. Men have a slightly higher rate of appendicitis than women, and Caucasians are diagnosed with appendicitis 1.5 times more often than other ethnic groups.

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Q:What are the long-term consequences of an appendectomy?

A:An appendectomy will remove your appendix, which will get rid of the pain and the potential for rupture and infection. Following surgery, most people recover completely within 2 to 6 weeks and have no major, long-term health problems.

In fact, most people do not need to even change their diet, exercise, or lifestyle.

As with any surgery, it is not risk-free. There can still be complications including allergic reaction to medications, infection of the incision, the appendix rupturing during the procedure, and other conditions. Talk to your surgeon before the procedure.

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Q:Surgery is the only method used to treat appendicitis. True or false?


Appendectomy remains the first line of treatment most commonly used to treat appendicitis. Removing the appendix is the only way to ensure the appendix won't perforate and cause peritonitis or other complications in the future.

However, antibiotics can be helpful in some patients for whom surgery is not an option, such as patients who have recently had a heart attack, patients with serious medical conditions, and women in the first trimester of pregnancy.

In addition, new research shows some patients may benefit from non-surgical treatment. A 2015 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed nearly three-quarters of people with appendicitis treated with antibiotics might not need surgery. The study states a CT scan can detect if a patient has a mild or severe case of appendicitis in order to determine who needs surgery.

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