Dear Alice,

What are the symptoms for appendicitis?

Dear Reader,

Appendicitis is a condition in which the appendix, a small, tube-like organ located in the lower right section of the abdomen, becomes inflamed. This organ is attached to the colon, which is the beginning portion of the large intestine. The appendix has no known use and its removal causes no apparent difference in digestive function.

Appendicitis is caused by a blockage in the lumen or inside of the appendix. Once this inflammation begins, it is imperative for the person to be taken to a nearby hospital to verify that the ailment is, in fact, appendicitis. If it is, then a surgeon will need to remove the appendix promptly to avoid any complications. Appendix-related problems include gangrene or it bursting and subsequently flooding the body with toxins that can cause infection and other harms. If treated immediately, before the appendix bursts, most people recover quickly without any adverse health effects.

Symptoms of appendicitis include:

  • Dull pain and swelling throughout the abdomen, starting in the upper portion and eventually shifting to its lower right region.
  • Vomiting, accompanied by a lingering feeling of nausea and a loss of appetite.
  • Failure to pass gas yet a sensation of being bloated.
  • Constipation or diarrhea, predominantly in children, but sometimes affecting adults, as well.
  • Low fever accompanied by an overall feeling of sluggishness.

In some situations, people also have tenesmus, a "downward urge" sensation that feels as though passing a bowel movement will end their abdominal distress. Pain relievers and laxatives are to be avoided, as they may cause further abdominal distress by forcing an unneeded bowel movement or by actually rupturing the appendix. However, if one experiences these symptoms, s/he needs to consult an emergency room medical provider as soon as possible in case s/he needs surgery.

Approximately one in fifteen people in the United States develops appendicitis. Fortunately, appendicitis is a common malady for health care providers to treat, most often through surgical removal and sometimes with antibiotics to take care of any infection. After the appendectomy procedure, if no complications arise, most people are out of the hospital, resuming their everyday routines, and returning to a normal eating plan, within a few days to a couple of weeks.

You can check the following resource for more information about appendicitis:

"Appendicitis" on the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse web site

If you are a student at Columbia and concerned about the potential of appendicitis, please reach out to a health care provider.  On the Morningside Campus you can schedule with Medical Services via Open Communicator or by calling 212-854-2284.  On the CUMC Campus you can schedule with Student Health Services by calling 212-305-3400.


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