If you have ever given any thought to the appendix, it was likely regarding its removal. Or, perhaps you found yourself wondering why we even have this small organ in the first place. After all, its only role seems to be developing appendicitis, which strikes roughly 5 percent of the population at some point in time. In fact, appendicitis is the most common cause of abdominal pain that will require surgery. So, why does the appendix even exist, and how can you tell if it has developed a problem? Here is what you should know:
What is the Purpose of the Appendix?
The function of the human appendix has long befuddled researchers. In plant-eaters, the appendix is actually much larger than that of a human and aids in the digestion of this specific diet. This has led some scientists to believe that the human appendix, while now unused, once served a similar role in herbivorous ancestors. More recent studies indicate that the appendix may harbor good gut bacteria that can be used to combat illness and bacterial imbalances. Even still, should this be the case, modern medicine and improved hygiene negates the body's need for the organ.
What are the Symptoms of Appendicitis?
Although it may no longer serve a vital role in human health, the appendix remains in modern man. Today, however, it often seems to do more harm than good. When appendicitis (inflammation of the appendix) occurs, it poses a serious medical emergency. Should the infected appendix rupture, it can spread bacteria into the abdominal cavity and cause a serious, even life-threatening, infection. The possible signs of appendicitis include:
- Pain and tenderness located in the lower right portion of the abdomen
- Pain that is worsened by movement, coughing, sneezing, or deep breathing
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Low-grade fever
- Inability to pass gas
- Loss of appetite
If you begin to experience these symptoms, do not delay treatment. Seek immediate medical attention.
What can You Expect from an Appendectomy?
Appendicitis is always an emergency medical situation that will require surgical removal of the appendix. This can be performed in one of two ways:
- Laparoscopic Appendectomy - A few, very small incisions are made in the abdomen, and a tube called a cannula is inserted. Through this tube, carbon dioxide gas is used to inflate the abdominal cavity and give the surgeon a clearer view of the appendix. Then, a laparoscope (a long, thin tube with a light and camera) is inserted so that the surgeon can visualize the appendix and they use special instruments to detach and remove it through an incision.
- Open Appendectomy - This procedure uses a single incision on the lower right side of the abdomen. Through the incision, the surgeon locates and removes the appendix. If the appendix has burst, this same incision allows them the access needed to clean the abdominal cavity.
For most patients, a laparoscopic appendectomy offers the greatest benefit, including a shorter recovery time. However, for those whose appendix has ruptured or who have had a previous abdominal surgery, an open appendectomy may be needed.
If you begin to develop symptoms of appendicitis, quickly seek medical treatment at a facility such as Lane Regional Medical Center. With a team of skilled general surgeons and caring staff, Lane can provide the care you need to remain healthy and avoid future complications.