We have all heard about, known someone or experienced the phenomenon of appendicitis. In some ways, its almost folklore-like mystery has come down to us generation after generation, so that even small children have heard of deadly pains and rushed plans to speedy transport to the emergency room in the middle of the night. Yet even if we have undergone this dreadful pain and necessary emergency surgery we are often in the dark about what, exactly, the appendix itself is, whether or not it is really "vestigial" and how on earth it can cause so very much pain.
The appendix is a worm, or finger-shaped appendage with, literally, unknown functions that juts out from the large intestine. As with any internal organ, inflamed or aggravated states will cause tremendous discomfort. The causes of appendicitis can vary, but the most commonly seen are either an obstruction or an infection. An obstruction can be either food or fecal matter which becomes lodged in the appendix. The infection situation is a bit less straightforward as this can be a result of another systemic illness or infection which then affects the appendix.
If you have appendicitis, the appendix is inflamed, enlarged, and filled with pus. The very serious state of a burst appendix means that the appendix and its infected contents have burst, or ruptured and can fill the abdominal cavity with the infected material. This can lead to extremely serious illness and even death.
While all people are different and appendicitis symptoms feel different to everyone, the typical pain pattern is that people experience pain around their abdomen, near their belly button, which can travel slowly or quickly through the abdominal cavity toward the lower right side.
Appendicitis can affect anyone, but it most often occurs in people between the ages of 10 and 30. The standard appendicitis treatment is surgical removal of the appendix.
Signs and symptoms of appendicitis may include:
Aching pain that begins around your navel and often shifts to your lower right abdomen
Pain that becomes sharper over several hours
Tenderness that occurs when you apply pressure to your lower right abdomen
Sharp pain in your lower right abdomen that occurs when the area is pressed on and then the pressure is quickly released (rebound tenderness)
Pain that worsens if you cough, walk or make other jarring movements
Loss of appetite
Inability to pass gas
The location of your pain may vary, depending on your age and the position of your appendix. Young children or pregnant women, especially, may have appendicitis pain in different places.
Is the appendix vestigial? Some think it is and others are quite adamant it is anything but. For more on this please see the following website: (http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode.cfm?id=thats-no-vestigial-organ-thats-my-a-09-08-24)
Aimee Boyle is a freelance writer, mother, special education teacher, full time house cleaner and laundress living in southern CT.