You may never have given much thought to your appendix, the little pouch that's attached to the top of your large intestine. And you wouldn't have much reason to think about it, because it doesn't seem to do anything. But if your appendix were to become swollen and inflamed, it would probably move to the front of your mind. The pain of appendicitis can make you quickly, and unpleasantly, familiar with this organ.
You can get appendicitis if your appendix becomes blocked. That blockage could be from feces, a foreign object, or, in rare cases, a tumor. When your appendix is blocked up, bacteria that normally live inside it start multiplying like crazy, and cause an infection.
If you've got appendicitis you'll usually have pain that's centered around the area of your belly button. At first the pain may be minor, but it can get very severe and will usually drift downward to the bottom right part of your abdomen. You may also have nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, and a low fever.
Your pain may let up for a time. This relief can be misleading, though. Just when you think you're getting better, your appendix may have actually burst. If that's the case, the pain will get start to get more and more intense.
To diagnose appendicitis, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and press on your abdomen, which will feel very tender. You may need imaging tests, such as a CT scan or ultrasound of your abdomen, so the doctor can see if the problem is with your appendix.
If you have appendicitis, the number one way to treat it is with surgery to remove your appendix. In fact, appendicitis is the number one cause of emergency abdominal surgery in the U.S. You may be treated for an infection first, before your surgery.
It's important to treat the appendicitis quickly because you can develop a collection of pus called an abscess in your abdomen once your appendix bursts. Don't worry about going through life without an appendix. People live healthy lives without it.
Once you've had your appendix taken out, you should feel a lot better. If your appendix has ruptured, it may take you longer to recover. You may also develop an abscess or other complications. That's why you don't want to wait until your appendix has already burst to get treated. Call your doctor for any severe pain in your abdomen, especially if you also have a fever, vomiting, constipation, dizziness, or other severe symptoms.
Review Date: 2/18/2016
Reviewed By: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.