The appendix is a small, thin pouch about 5-10cm (2-4 inches) long. It's connected to the large intestine (in your tummy) where stools (faeces/poo) are formed.
Appendicitis is a common condition. It can develop at any age, but it's most common in young people aged from 10 to 20 years old.
Symptoms of appendicitis
Appendicitis typically begins with a pain in the middle of your tummy (abdomen) that may come and go.
Within hours, for many people, the pain travels to the lower right-hand side. This is where the appendix is usually located, and the pain becomes constant and severe.
Pressing on this area, coughing, or walking may all make the pain worse.
During pregnancy, in very young children, and in older people, the symptoms may not be the same.
You should always get medical advice (see below) if the symptoms are getting worse or there is persistent abdominal pain.
If you have appendicitis, you may also have other symptoms, including:
- feeling sick (nausea)
- being sick
- loss of appetite
- temperature (fever) usually not more than 38°C; and a flushed face
When to get medical help
If you're experiencing tummy (abdominal pain) that's gradually getting worse, contact your GP or local GP out of hours service for advice, or to see if you need to be examined. Appendicitis can easily be confused with something else, such as:
- severe irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- bladder or urine infections
- Crohn's disease
- pelvic infection
In young women, these symptoms can sometimes have a gynaecological cause, such as an ectopic pregnancy or menstrual pain.
However, any condition that causes constant stomach pain requires urgent medical attention.
If appendicitis isn't treated, the appendix can burst and cause potentially life-threatening infection.
Call 999 for an ambulance if you have abdominal (tummy) pain that suddenly gets much worse and spreads across your abdomen. These are signs your appendix may have burst.
How appendicitis is treated
In most cases of appendicitis, the appendix needs to be surgically removed as soon as possible.
Nobody knows exactly why we have an appendix, but removing it isn't harmful.
Removal of the appendix is called an appendectomy or appendicectomy. It is one of the most common operations and it will stop appendicitis.
Most people make a full recovery from an appendectomy in a couple of weeks. Strenuous activities may need to be avoided for up to six weeks after surgery, depending on how the surgery was performed. You will receive advice in the hospital before you go home.
Causes of appendicitis
It's not exactly clear what the causes of appendicitis are. Most cases are thought to occur when something blocks the entrance of the appendix.
- a blockage may be formed by a small piece of faeces (poo)
- an upper respiratory tract infection could lead to a swollen lymph node within the wall of the bowel
This obstruction leads to inflammation and swelling. The pressure caused by the swelling can then lead to the appendix bursting.
As the causes aren't fully understood, there's no guaranteed way of preventing appendicitis.