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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury


Mate repe awhikiri

Your appendix is a narrow tube around 5 to 10 cm long located at the beginning of your large bowel (colon).

We are not sure why the appendix exists. Its purpose may be to hold good bacteria that helps our immune system, or it may be a left over from a time when human's digested a coarse leaf-based diet.

Appendicitis happens when your appendix gets inflamed and fills with pus. It can be caused by an infection, or it can be triggered by a small blockage with hard stool (poo). It can sometimes be caused by a tumour in older people.

It's important to get treatment quickly because your appendix could burst (rupture). If it bursts, it can take a long time to recover and it can be life-threatening.

Appendicitis can happen at any age but it's most common in teenagers and young adults.

Symptoms of appendicitis

Appendicitis usually starts with a sore tummy (abdomen). This pain is often hard to locate, but it might feel strongest around your tummy button. As it gets worse, it moves to the lower right part of your abdomen. You may have other symptoms too, including vomiting, fever, diarrhoea (runny poos) or constipation.

If your appendix bursts, the pain may spread over your whole stomach.

Pregnant women sometimes feel pain higher up on the right side of the abdomen than usual.

Diagnosing appendicitis

Your general practice team will examine you for fever and feel your abdomen to determine if you may have appendicitis. They may also feel in your bottom to check for internal tenderness. You may have your urine checked. Women are sometimes given a pregnancy test to rule it out as a cause for the pain.

Your general practice team may think you have appendicitis based on the limited testing they can do, but it may turn out you have something else when you get to hospital and have more tests.

Treating appendicitis

You'll be sent to the hospital, where you'll have a blood test. You may also have a scan to see if there is evidence of appendicitis or another explanation for your symptoms. If you're very unwell, your surgeon may decide to operate rather than requesting more tests. Your appendix will be removed if necessary. Sometimes, the appendix is found to be normal.

If you do not need surgery urgently, you may be given antibiotics and watched for a period of time to see if your symptoms get better or worse.

Surgery for appendicitis can be performed via laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery where small holes are made in your tummy wall and a camera is used to look inside your tummy and remove your appendix.

A burst appendix is a bit more difficult to fix and may require a cut in the abdomen.

Your surgeon will talk through possible surgical risks with you and answer your questions.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed July 2022.


See also:

Overview of surgery

Page reference: 114756

Review key: HIAPP-114756