Hits and myths: appendicitis
Appendicitis is a painful condition that can affect anyone, but it mostly tends to occur in people aged between 10 and 30. It is also one of the most common reasons for emergency abdominal surgery. Appendicitis occurs when the appendix, a 10cm-long, worm-shaped structure that extends from the large intestine, becomes swollen, inflamed and filled with pus. Symptoms of the condition typically present as an aching, rapidly worsening pain that begins at the navel and shifts to the lower right abdomen, tenderness in the lower right abdominal area, vomiting and nausea, low-grade fever and chills, constipation or diarrhoea, bloating and an inability to pass gas. If untreated, appendicitis can be fatal as the appendix can burst. However, in most cases, surgery is performed or antibiotics are prescribed before the condition reaches the dangerous stage, so deaths from the condition are extremely rare these days.
The appendix was previously believed to be a vestigial organ (an organ that serves no purpose). But now, scientists have theorised that it is a factory and storehouse for beneficial bacteria, which get released when our bodies are battling a serious infection, such as diarrhoea.
It is not entirely clear what causes appendicitis, although there is no evidence to suggest that it is associated with jumping around or exercising after eating, says Dr Renny Yien, a specialist in general surgery at Matilda International Hospital. Experts believe that appendicitis has two likely causes. The first is an infection that has found its way to the appendix, causing it to become inflamed. The second possible cause is obstruction by a hard piece of stool. When this faecal stone gets trapped in the appendix, bacteria begin to grow and multiply, causing the appendix to fill up with pus and become inflamed.
According to Yien, other potential sources of such a blockage include types of inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. Obstruction may also occur if the lymph nodes in the appendix swell. Among the less common causes of blockage: fruit and vegetable seeds, stomach worms, thickened barium from previous X-rays, and, in the elderly, cancer of the colon.
Although the appendix is now thought to be part of the lymphatic system as it plays an important role in intestinal health, there is no cause for concern if you have already had yours removed, since the appendix is not the only part of the body that produces beneficial bacteria.