The appendix, a finger-like tube of tissue about 3 ½ inches long, protrudes out from the colon on the lower right side of the abdomen. It has no known function and many people never experience any problems associated with it. However, when problems do occur they can become quite serious if left untreated. Symptoms appear when the appendix becomes inflamed and filled with infection. This condition, called appendicitis, is more common in people between the ages of 10 and 30, but can occur at any age. Appendicitis usually requires surgery to remove the inflamed appendix.
The first symptom of an appendix problem is usually dull pain or discomfort around the navel area. The pain eventually travels down the right side of the abdomen and finally settles in the area around the appendix, typically in the lower right abdomen. However, the precise location of the appendix varies from person to person, so the location of pain associated with an appendix problem can also vary. The pain usually intensifies over a period of six to12 hours.
Other symptoms of appendicitis may appear after the initial pain. These signs include low-grade fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal swelling and loss of appetite. Symptoms may also include inability to pass gas, constipation and diarrhoea. The area where the pain settles may feel tender to the touch and jarring movements such as walking or coughing may make the pain worse.
If appendicitis is left untreated, the appendix will eventually burst and the infectious pus will spill out into the abdominal cavity. This can cause inflammation of the cavity lining. This condition is called peritonitis and can be fatal unless it is treated promptly and aggressively.
The cause of appendicitis is often not clear, and there is no medical evidence to indicate that it can be prevented. It can be caused by an obstruction of some kind such as food waste or hardened fecal matter. Appendix problems can also occur as the result of a previous infection or inflammation. In either case, bacteria can rapidly spread into the area and cause inflammation of the appendix. A cancerous obstruction can also cause appendicitis.
Several conditions have the same symptoms as those caused by appendix problems. Crohn's disease, urinary tract infections, gallbladder problems, gastritis and ovary problems can all exhibit some of the same symptoms as an inflamed appendix. It is very important that these symptoms be taken seriously. Persons with appendix problems often think they just have a stomach bug and allow the infection and inflammation to progress without treatment.