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Appendicitis is an inflammation and infection of the appendix, a small, pouch-like sac of tissue that is located in the first part of the colon, in the lower-right abdomen. Although appendicitis can be life-threatening, an appendectomy (surgical removal of the appendix) is a common emergency surgery.

The skilled, board-certified general surgeons affiliated with Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center specialize in abdominal surgeries, performing over 400 appendectomies every year.

Appendicitis Causes and Risk Factors

Appendicitis occurs when the appendix becomes blocked, often by stool, a foreign body or cancer. Blockage may also occur from infection, since the appendix can swell in response to any infection in the body.

Although anyone can develop appendicitis, it occurs most often between the ages of 10 and 30. In the U.S., over five percent of the population eventually develops appendicitis. It is the most common cause of acute abdominal pain requiring surgery.

Symptoms of Appendicitis

  • Pain localized to the right side of the abdomen, often originating around the navel and moving to the lower right side of the abdomen
  • Pain that worsens with jarring movement, walking or coughing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fever
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Abdominal bloating

Diagnosing Appendicitis

If appendicitis is suspected, your doctor will examine your abdomen, applying gentle pressure to the area of pain, and will take a history of your symptoms.

Your doctor may also order tests, including:

  • A blood test, to check for a high white blood cell count, which could indicate infection
  • A urinalysis, to rule out a urinary tract infection or the presence of a kidney stone
  • Imaging tests, including an abdominal X-ray or ultrasound, to confirm the diagnosis of appendicitis or to detect other sources of pain

Treatment for Appendicitis

Standard treatment is surgical removal of the appendix, called an appendectomy, which can often be performed laparoscopically (a minimally invasive procedure requiring only small incisions). If your appendix has ruptured and infection has spread beyond the appendix, or if you have an abscess, you may need an open appendectomy, which allows your surgeon to clean the abdominal cavity.

Patients who undergo early-stage appendectomies to remove appendixes that have not ruptured can usually go home within a day or two. If an appendix has ruptured, the patient may stay up to a week, provided there is no post-operative infection.

Getting Help

Appendicitis is a medical emergency. Go to an Emergency Room if you believe you or your child has appendicitis.

To schedule an appointment with a physician affiliated with Memorial Hermann, click here or call 713-222-CARE (2273).