Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix that is often caused by an
obstruction, but it may be caused by an infection. The appendix is a small
sac-like appendage of the large intestine that hangs down on the lower right
side of the abdominal cavity. Appendicitis is frequently misdiagnosed, since it
mimics other diseases. If untreated, an inflamed appendix can rupture, causing
infection of the peritoneal cavity (the lining surrounding the abdominal organs)
and even death. Between 5 and 10% of the population develop appendicitis,
usually in their teens and twenties.
|Signs and Symptoms|
Appendicitis is accompanied by the following signs and
- Pain on the right side of the abdomen, usually beginning near the
navel and moving down and to the right. The pain worsens when moving, taking
deep breaths, coughing, sneezing, or being touched in this area.
- Loss of appetite
- Change in bowel movements, including diarrhea or inability to have a
bowel movement or to pass gas
- Low fever that begins after other symptoms
- Urinating frequently, or difficult or painful urination
|What Causes It?|
Appendicitis usually occurs following an infection in the digestive tract, or
when the tube connecting the large intestine and appendix is blocked by trapped
feces. The resulting inflammation can result in infection or rupture of the
|Who's Most At Risk?|
The following factors can put you at higher risk for developing
- Family history
- Children 2 years of age or younger and people 70 years of age or older
are at higher risk for a ruptured
|What to Expect at Your Provider's Office|
Because of the risk of rupture, appendicitis is considered an emergency. If
you are experiencing symptoms associated with appendicitis, you should seek
immediate medical attention. The doctor will ask about your symptoms and your
medical history, conduct a physical exam to check for abdominal tenderness, and
may order blood tests and urine tests. Some providers use ultrasound to check
whether the appendix is inflamed (and to rule out ovarian abnormalities or
ectopic pregnancy in women). A computed tomography (CT) scan may also be
Eating a diet that includes green vegetables may decrease the likelihood of
Appendicitis is most often treated with a combination of surgery and
antibiotics. In addition to antibiotics, you will receive intravenous fluids
and, if nauseated, medication to control vomiting. If you have symptoms of
appendicitis, you will be evaluated for surgery. When the diagnosis is not clear
from tests such as an ultrasound or CT scan, exploratory surgery is performed.
If appendicitis is confirmed, either from the tests or the exploratory surgery,
the appendix is removed in a procedure called an appendectomy.
Your provider may prescribe the following medications.
- Medications taken to ease
|Surgical and Other Procedures|
An appendectomy is the surgical removal of the appendix through an incision
in your abdomen that can be several inches long. A laparoscopic appendectomy
involves making several tiny cuts in the abdomen and inserting a miniature
camera and surgical instruments. The surgeon then removes the appendix through
one of the small incisions. The advantage of laparoscopic appendectomy is that
recovery is usually faster than with traditional surgery. However, not everyone
is a candidate for the laparoscopic procedure.
|Complementary and Alternative Therapies|
Acute appendicitis is a medical emergency, so you should seek conventional
treatment immediately. Some studies show that certain nutritional choices may
help to prevent appendicitis or may boost your immune system. Also, Traditional
Chinese Medicine (TCM) using herbs and/or acupuncture has been used to treat
appendicitis; see details in the sections on Herbs and
On the other hand, certain folk remedies may worsen appendicitis, may cause
symptoms similar to appendicitis, or may bring about acute appendicitis. For
instance, traditional Mexican American remedies used to treat stomach upset
include elemental mercury or lead salts. These may cause abdominal pain, nausea,
vomiting, and malaise, symptoms that resemble appendicitis.
In England and Wales, a study was performed to review whether low intake of
fiber and high intake of sugar and meat may influence the development of acute
appendicitis. The study evaluated the dietary habits of 49,690 patients
diagnosed with acute appendicitis. Although no specific correlation was found
with sugar or meat, the analysis did suggest that the more fresh and frozen
green vegetables and fresh and processed tomatoes people ate, the less likely
they were to develop appendicitis. The researchers concluded that eating green
vegetables—particularly cabbages, cauliflowers, peas,
beans, and Brussels sprouts—and possibly tomatoes may
protect against appendicitis.
Another study reviewed the link between abdominal microbes and the immune
system in children with acute appendicitis who had or had not been breastfed.
Children (mean age 7 to 8 years) with acute appendicitis were less likely to
have been breastfed over a long period of time compared to a group of randomly
selected children from the same geographic area. The authors suggest that human
milk may boost the immune system, and it may make infections and inflammation
Traditional Chinese herbal therapies may help treat appendicitis. There is
not yet enough scientific research on Chinese or Western herbs to be sure, but
there are some case reports from a TCM perspective. In a report of 425 patients
with acute appendicitis treated with Chinese herbal preparations, either with or
without antibiotics, the majority of patients did extremely well and did not
require surgery. Of the 425 cases, 93% were cured with TCM alone, 4% with TCM
and antibiotics together, and 3% with surgery after medicine failed. Only thirty
patients had acute relapse of appendicitis shortly after recovery. Given that
appendicitis sometimes resolves but then recurs, a subset of the people who had
not had surgery were followed for 1 year; 85% of them experienced complete
recovery without recurrence during that period.
Some examples of herbal therapies used in TCM include: detoxifying and
fever-reducing herbs (Flos lonicerae, Fructus forsythiae, Herba taraxaci,
Patrinia scabioseafolia, Gypsum fibrosum), circulation-enhancing herbs
(Semen persicae, Radix paeoniae rubra, Squama manitis, Spina gleditsiae),
and laxatives (Rhizoma rhei, Mirabilitum depuratum).
Belladonna and Bryonia are classic homeopathic remedies often
used for an inflamed appendix. Using the appropriate homeopathic remedy along
with conventional Western medicine may relieve your symptoms and help clear up
appendicitis more quickly. However, no scientific literature supports the use of
homeopathy for appendicitis. An experienced homeopath would consider your
individual case and may recommend treatments to address both your underlying
condition and any current symptoms.
The way acupuncture works on acute abdominal conditions is complex. In
Chinese medical terms, appendicitis is thought to be caused by blockages in the
circulation of blood and flow of vitality. Acupuncture appears to help relieve
pain, control peristalsis (the wave-like movements of muscles in the
intestines), and improve blood flow. Case reports from China suggest that
acupuncture has been used for mild appendicitis. Electroacupuncture (sending
electric current through needles) has also been used.
A report on 633 hospital patients with acute appendicitis, for example,
suggests that acupuncture was effective, with 62% of the cases cured and 31%
improved. Acupuncture was not effective for cases of a ruptured appendix. Of the
original 633 patients, 461 were followed for up to 20 years to see if
appendicitis recurred; 59% needed to have their appendix removed during that
time period, while 41% did not.
A licensed and certified acupuncturist would work together with your doctor
to monitor your condition closely; in some parts of the world, an acupuncturist
works in the hospital to deliver care at the same time as conventional medical
practices. Even with surgery, acupuncture can be quite useful for anesthesia,
pain control, and improved recovery.
You should not have a massage during acute inflammatory conditions such as
In cases without rupture, the risk of death is very low. In cases where the
appendix ruptures, the mortality rate is higher, and is especially high among
the elderly (15%). Complications may include recurring appendicitis,
inflammation of the abdominal lining, abscess (pus-filled inflamed area), sepsis
(poisoning caused by the presence of infectious bacteria in the blood),
obstruction of a fallopian tube, infertility, and wound infection. Appendicitis
only occurs in about 1 in 1000 pregnancies.
If you have surgery, you will need to see your provider 2 weeks after the
operation, and again at 6 weeks.
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|Review Date: October 2000|
|Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Jacqueline A. Hart, MD,
Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Harvard University
and Senior Medical Editor Integrative Medicine, Boston, MA; David Riley, MD,
Editor in Chief, Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, Encinitas, CA;
Leonard Wisneski, MD, FACP, George Washington University, Rockville,
Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc
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