Appendicitis is a medical emergency that happens when your appendix becomes sore, swollen, and diseased.

In the United States, over five percent of the population will develop appendicitis, which is the most common cause of acute abdominal pain requiring surgery.

Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix, which is a tube of tissue that extends from the large intestine and is the size of an earth worm. One study suggests that the appendix may have some role in gut immunity, but nothing is definite. However, we can live without it, without apparent consequences.

Dr. Wesley Badger of Regional Health Spearfish Hospital says, “Some people think maybe it’s like a suppository for bacteria that colonize the colon, so to help kind of promote the normal flora that lives in the colon. But there are no ill effects from having it out. People have it out and really have no changes to their life.”

Appendicitis is a medical emergency that almost always requires prompt surgery to remove the appendix. If left untreated, an inflamed appendix will eventually burst, or puncture, spilling infectious materials into the abdominal cavity and can be fatal unless it is treated quickly with strong antibiotics. But specific treatment for the condition will be determined by your doctor based on a number for factors like age, overall health and medical history.

So who is at risk for appendicitis and what are the symptoms?

Badger says, “Kids in their first and second decade of life and then later in the fifth and sixth decade of life are probably the most common people that come in with appendicitis. Usually, they complain of periumbilical pain that over the course of a day migrates to the right side of their belly. It sometimes associated with nausea or fevers … people describe it as like a dull ache, but once it kind of worsens and it contacts the sensory nerves in the belly, people can put a finger on the spot in their belly where it’s the most sore, kind of between the belly button and the hip bone.”

During the first few years of life, the appendix functions as a part of the immune system. Around half of all patients with appendicitis do not have typical symptoms, and this can make it hard to diagnose.

“And in kids more commonly there has been some kind of preceding viral episode, and they have enlarged lymph nodes that blocks off the base the appendix and then they get appendicitis.”

A high-fiber diet may help reduce the chances of developing appendicitis by creating softer stools that are less likely to get trapped in the appendix.

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