Chances are, someone you love has suffered from appendicitis during childhood or adolescence. Although it’s rarely talked about, appendicitis affects hundreds of thousands of people in the United States each year. In fact, more than 250,000 appendectomies (surgery involving removal of the appendix) are performed in America yearly (1). So what does appendicitis feel like? What are the signs of appendicitis? Read on to find out!
What Is the Appendix?
The appendix is actually part of your digestive tract, sitting at the junction of the small intestine and large intestine. Hence, it’s located on the lower right side of your abdomen. It’s roughly four inches long and is quite thin (2). In some people, the appendix lies behind the colon.
Despite the fact that everyone has one, doctors aren’t quite sure what the appendix actually does. Many believe it’s the remnants of the digestive tracts of our ancestors, who had a very different diet than we have now. Others believe it contains vital bacteria that help digestion and boost immune function (3).
Even though we know little about it, the appendix is a vestigial organ, meaning that you can live perfectly happy and healthy without it.
What Causes Appendicitis
According to Medical News Today, appendicitis is a condition in which the appendix becomes swollen, inflamed, and filled with pus. It typically occurs either when an infection in your digestive system finds its way into your appendix, or due to an obstruction of food within your appendix (3).
Other causes of appendicitis include parasitic infection, bacterial imbalance in the gut, severe constipation, and injury to the digestive tract.
It can also be caused by an upper respiratory tract infection, which can lead to a swollen lymph node within the wall of the bowel (4).
Left untreated, appendicitis can cause your appendix to burst in as little as 48 hours after initial infection, spilling infected pus into your abdomen. An abscess occurs when the infection inside your appendix mixes with intestinal contents. Left untreated, it can lead to peritonitis.
Peritonitis, as you may know, is a deadly infection of the peritoneum, which is the membrane that lines the abdominal cavity and covers most of your digestive organs. Peritonitis quickly spreads throughout the body and can cause irreversible damage or even death.