Healthy Living

What is Appendicitis? What are the Causes of Appendicitis?

What is Appendicitis? What are the Causes of Appendicitis?

Key Takeaways

  • Appendicitis is a common condition that can affect people of any age.
  • In the early stages of appendicitis, the condition is often misdiagnosed as gastroenteritis, which is the inflammation of the stomach and small intestine. 
  • Sometimes, heredity is considered as a contributing factor to appendicitis.

Appendicitis is a condition where the appendix, a small finger-like structure located in the right lower part of the abdomen, gets inflamed. Aside from inflammation, the appendix can burst when it is filled with pus. The appendix is commonly known to have no purpose or function in the human body. 

Causes of appendicitis

The causes of appendicitis are not that clear, but healthcare experts have given out information from research indicating that appendicitis sometimes results from viral, bacterial, and fungal infections. The bacteria and viruses that can cause the disease include:

  • Adenovirus
  • Paramyxovirus (the virus that causes measles)
  • Bacteroides species (bacteria)
  • Salmonella (bacteria)
  • Shigella (bacteria) 
  • Mucorales (fungi)
  • Histoplasma (fungi)

Appendicitis

Appendicitis causes pain around the belly button then descends to the lower right side of the abdomen, above the pelvic bone. Along with the abdominal pain, an individual can also experience other symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, fever, and lack of appetite. It hurts more when you are coughing, doing sudden movements, or when pressing the affected area. The pain can turn severe in just a few hours from 6 to 12 hours. Your appendix might also rupture. For this reason, it is better not to think of it as a simple tummy ache. If you experience such symptoms, go to the doctor immediately. Appendicitis is a common condition that can affect people of any age.

Diagnosing appendicitis

In the early stages of appendicitis, the condition is often misdiagnosed as gastroenteritis, which is the inflammation of the stomach and small intestine. Other conditions such as kidney stones, gallstones, colitis, ovarian and testicular problems, as well as urinary tract infections also mimic the symptoms of appendicitis. That is why appendicitis is sometimes difficult to diagnose.

The only way to diagnose the condition is through a physical examination and by investigating on the symptoms experienced by the affected person. No blood tests can be performed to detect appendicitis, although a CT scan can be used to evaluate the abdominal pain and to avoid a negative appendectomy.

It is not safe to do a self-diagnosis or let your family and friends who had an appendicitis play the role of the doctor. There are many factors to consider but the problem can be treated with a simple surgery. There is no home care treatment when it comes to appendicitis. Just avoid eating or drinking as it may prolong the surgery. Do not use laxatives, pain relief medicines, or antibiotics, as they may prolong the treatment process and will just increase your risk of having a ruptured appendix.

Can it be hereditary?

Appendicitis is not a contagious condition, which means that it cannot be transmitted from one person to another, but sometimes, heredity is considered as a contributing factor in the development of appendicitis. 

In most cases, appendicitis results from a blockage of the appendiceal lumen, where mucus flows and empties into the large intestine. There may be many causes of an appendix blockage including appendicoliths or sometimes referred to as fecaliths, which in simple words are fecal calcium lumps that are deposited in the appendix. These lumps are commonly known as "appendix stones."

Other causes of appendicitis

Other causes of appendicitis are intestinal worms or parasites such as the Enterobius vermicularis or commonly called as the "pinworm." This worm overpopulates in the intestines, which hinders the passage of food through the intestines, thereby preventing digestion from happening. Sometimes, irritation due to ulcers in the gastrointestinal tract may result because of long-term diseases acquired in the body such as Crohn's disease. 

Moreover, an abdominal injury or any trauma applied to the appendix either externally or internally can lead to an infection. At times, trauma can be exerted with pressure from any object, which is enough to cause damage to the appendix. Another cause of appendicitis could be the enlargement of the lymph cells inside and outside the walls of the appendix. The enlargement of such cells could ideally be the reason for gastrointestinal infections in the body. Any other foreign objects found in the appendix could cause an inflammation such as stones from food, getting shot and the bullet gets to the appendix or any air pellets from a gun.

When the appendix gets infected, bacteria can rapidly multiply. That is why the appendix swells up within hours. Usually, the appendix gets filled up with pus, which is a thick fluid that contains bacteria and dead cells. As the body responds to the infection, more white blood cells (WBC) are produced. When it is left untreated over a prolonged period of time, the inflammation can worsen leading to more complications. The pressure in the appendix gradually increases, which has an effect on the level of blood flowing through the inside and outside walls of the appendix.

When the appendix is overpopulated with bacteria, these harmful microorganisms start to leak out from the collapsing walls of the appendix reaching the peritoneum, which is the slim lining of the abdominal wall. When the appendix ruptures, pus and other wastes from the appendix will be spilled into the abdominal cavity, which can lead to peritonitis (a serious inflammation of the peritoneum). Sometimes, the infection can get into the bloodstream and affects the whole body, leading to sepsis.

Risk factors

The following are factors that could determine one's risk of having appendicitis:

  • Being a male 
  • Having a family member who had suffered from the disease
  • Being 10 to 20 years old
  • Suffering from Crohn's disease or stomach ulcers 

Research also show that consuming low fiber, high-carbohydrate meals can increase a person's chances of developing the infection. Moreover, air pollution can contribute to the development of appendicitis. The reason is that high levels of ozone also heightens microbial activities and disturbs their distribution. Research also shows that people suffer more from the disease during hot summers. This occurrence is probably due to the intake of fast foods with low fiber content, leading to infections in the gastrointestinal tract.

The best way to treat appendicitis is by removing the appendix through surgery.