Know Your Appendix
Surgeon Blake Stewart, DO, explains its role, what can go wrong and when you need surgery
The appendix is a thin worm-shaped pouch sitting at the junction of your small and large intestines. Measuring just under 4 inches, this small organ may not seem significant, but it can develop a painful, life-threatening condition called appendicitis that usually requires surgery. Learn more about this unique organ and appendicitis treatment from surgeon Blake Stewart, DO, with LVPG General Surgery–Pottsville:
What does the appendix do?
Most experts believe the appendix has no real function and is a remnant left over from our evolutionary past.
What is appendicitis?
For reasons that aren’t fully understood, the appendix sometimes gets inflamed and filled with pus – a condition called appendicitis. “The most unmistakable symptom is excruciating pain in the right lower quadrant of the abdomen that keeps getting worse,” Stewart says. Other appendicitis symptoms include:
Nausea and vomiting
Constipation or diarrhea
Without treatment, the appendix can rupture (burst) or perforate (tear), causing bacteria-filled pus to spill into the abdomen and cause new infections or even death. Appendicitis is the most common disease of the appendix followed by cancerous tumors.
How is appendicitis treated?
In most cases, the appendix must be removed quickly after the onset of symptoms to avoid a rupture or perforation – usually within 24 to 72 hours. “It’s important to see your doctor or go to the emergency room right away after symptoms start,” Stewart says.
Removing the appendix (called an appendectomy) usually effectively treats appendicitis and doesn’t lead to long-term health consequences.
How is surgery performed?
“Appendectomies are typically done laparoscopically and are one of the most common surgeries we perform,” Stewart says. “During this minimally invasive procedure, we cut three small incisions in the abdomen and insert a tiny camera and special instruments to remove the appendix. If it isn’t perforated or ruptured, you usually go home within 24 hours.”
If your appendix has already burst, you may need open surgery to remove it through a single large incision. “In these serious cases, patients often receive antibiotics to prevent infection and may remain in the hospital for a week or longer,” Stewart says.