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Your appendix is a small, tube-like organ attached to the first part of your large intestine, and located in the lower right part of your abdomen. It has no known function and for many people it causes no problem throughout life. However, if it becomes inflamed from blockage, this can lead to appendicitis, a serious condition requiring immediate medical attention that typically involves appendix removal.
Appendicitis causes pain in your lower right abdomen, but can also begin around the navel. Other appendix pain symptoms include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Pain when cough, walk or make a sudden movement
- Low-grade fever
Causes of Appendicitis and Complications
Appendicitis is usually caused by a blockage in the lining of the appendix that then causes an infection. As bacteria multiply, the appendix becomes inflamed and filled with pus. As the inflammation worsens, pain often increases and can lead to serious complications, such as:
- A ruptured appendix. When this happens, infection spread throughout your abdomen. This can be life-threatening and requires immediate surgery.
- Pus that forms in the abdomen. If the appendix bursts, you are at risk for developing a pocket of infection, or abscess. Placing a tube through your abdominal wall, which is left in place for about two weeks, drains the abscess. Antibiotics help eliminate the infection, and once the infection is gone, the appendix can then be removed.
Appendicitis Tests and Procedures
Your doctor will examine your abdomen by applying gentle pressure on the painful area. He or she may perform a digital rectal exam to examine your lower rectum. The following tests and procedures also are often used:
- Blood test. A high white blood cell count may indicate an infection.
- Urine test. A urinalysis can determine if a urinary tract infection or a kidney stone causes your pain.
- Imaging tests. An abdominal X-ray, ultrasound, or a computerized tomography (CT) scan can help confirm a diagnosis.
What is the main treatment for appendicitis? An appendectomy, during which the appendix is removed through a 2- to 4-inch incision. Another option is laparoscopic surgery. Here, special surgical tools and a video camera are inserted into your abdomen. In general, this approach allows for a faster recovery and healing. However, it is not an option if your appendix has ruptured and infection has spread.
Originally published in May 2016 and updated.