Overview of Appendicitis

Appendicitis is a relatively common condition and is estimated to occur in around 10 percent of the general population. More that 300,000 appendectomies are performed each year in the United States.

The appendix resembles a smaller, thinner version of the pinky finger. It is located in the right lower abdomen attached to the beginning of the large bowel (cecum) and generally does not cause any problems. If the channel in that little tube get blocked by small stones or matter, bacteria can grow, causing an inflammation of the appendix.

Like infection anywhere in the body, appendicitis is generally associated with tenderness in the area, inflammation, fever, and an elevated white blood count. Timely diagnosis and treatment is important. If treatment is delayed or if the condition quickly becomes severe, the appendix may perforate. The patient must be placed on antibiotics, and in some cases, the appendix must be removed (appendectomy).

Fortunately, the diagnosis is most often obvious from the clinical history and examination findings. In one third or less of patients, the diagnosis may be unclear. The problem is that there are many conditions that mimic appendicitis, including right-sided kidney stones, other inflammatory diseases of the bowel such as diverticulitis, Crohn's disease, and, in women, gynecological problems, such as endometriosis and ovarian cysts. There are many other clinical clues that help in making the diagnosis, but more often than not, an imaging test can sort things out. There are several diagnostic tests available.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in June 2015, there are two types of appendicitis—one that requires surgery to remove the appendix and one that can be treated with antibiotics. In a study reported by the NIH, about 80 percent of people with an inflamed appendix can be treated with antibiotics and do not require surgery. A CT scan can accurately determine which type the person has. Some appendicitis patients who are treated with antibiotics require appendectomy at a later date.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 01 May 2000

Last Modified: 01 Sep 2015