What Is Appendicitis?

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APPENDICITIS is a painful medical condition in which the appendix becomes inflamed and filled with pus, a fluid made up of dead cells that often results from an infection. Appendicitis is the leading cause of emergency abdominal operations in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The appendix is a small, finger-shaped pouch attached to your large intestine on the lower right side of your abdomen. It’s not entirely clear what role the appendix plays in the body, but some research suggests that it isn’t the useless organ it was once thought to be.
Though people can live perfectly normal lives without their appendix, inflammation of this abdominal organ can be a serious, life-threatening condition. If not treated promptly, appendicitis may cause the appendix to burst, spreading an infection throughout the abdomen. When people discuss appendicitis, they’re typically referring to acute appendicitis, which is marked by a sharp abdominal pain that quickly spreads and worsens over a matter of hours.
In some cases, however, people may develop chronic appendicitis, which causes mild, recurrent abdominal pain that often subsides on its own — these patients usually don’t realize they have appendicitis until an acute episode strikes.
Prevalence and Risk Factors for Appendicitis Acute appendicitis now affects about 9 in 10,000 people each year in the United States (roughly 300,000 people annually) — this prevalence is higher than it was just 20 years ago, according to a 2012 report from the Journal of Surgical Research.
People of any age can get the condition, though appendicitis is most common among children and teenagers between 10 and 19 years old, according to the 2012 report. It affects males more often than females, but scientists have yet to identify why this is the case. Appendicitis is more common in Western societies, and may be more common in urban industrialized areas, compared with rural communities.
The typical “Western diet” that’s low in fiber and high in carbohydrates is thought to be behind this pattern. It also appears that having a family history of appendicitis increases the risk of getting the condition for both children and adults.
The NIH estimates that almost 400 people die in the United States each year from appendicitis. It’s not always clear what causes appendicitis, but the condition often arises from one of two issues: A gastrointestinal infection that has spread to the appendix, or an obstruction that blocks the opening of the appendix.
In the second case, there are several different sources of blockage. These include: Lymph tissue in the wall of the appendix that has become enlarged Hardened stool, parasites, or growths Irritation and ulcers in the gastrointestinal tract Abdominal injury or trauma Foreign objects, such as pins or bullets When a person’s appendix becomes infected or obstructed, bacteria inside the organ multiply rapidly.