Appendicitis – The Importance of Prompt Treatment

The average appendix measures 9cm in length and most of us have one. There has been much debate between scientists as to the purpose of the appendix from enabling us to digest a diet of leaves and tree bark once upon a time to protecting beneficial bacteria living in our gut. One thing they can agree on, however, is that we don’t necessarily need one.

So why am I dedicating a blog to what can essentially be viewed as a useless organ?

The answer is that having this tiny tube (it measures 6mm in diameter) can potentially be life threatening if it becomes inflamed; a condition known as appendicitis. Appendicitis is a common condition that develops when a blockage or infection develops in the appendix and, generally, will only become worse without treatment.

What Do the Symptoms of Appendicitis Include?

Symptoms of appendicitis include pain, nausea, vomiting (which is generally green), diarrhoea and fever. Classically, the pain comes and goes in the middle of the stomach before moving to the lower right hand side where the pain remains severe and constant.

If appendicitis is missed, the ‘bad’ bacteria continue to multiply causing the appendix to become more and more inflamed as it fills with pus. By on average 48 – 72 hours after the onset of symptoms, the appendix bursts under the pressure of the inflammation and the pus begins to spread throughout the abdominal cavity; a condition known as peritonitis which becomes fatal if the infection enters the blood stream. It is therefore vital that appendicitis is diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.

What Is the Treatment for Appendicitis?

Treatment for appendicitis almost always involves the removal of the appendix via keyhole surgery or a small incision in the right lower abdomen. However, when the appendix bursts and the infection becomes widespread, it can be necessary to operate through an incision along the middle of the abdomen. This is because in addition to removing the appendix, the surgeon will need to wash out the area thoroughly to remove the collections of pus that may have formed (abscesses) and to go some way to treating the infection. Patients who require this treatment will usually require a longer hospital stay, IV antibiotics and drains (either during the original surgery or subsequently). These patients will inevitably be left with an extensive scar and can be left with long term complications including altered bowel habits and in women and girls a compromise to their future fertility.

Not everyone presents with the classic symptoms of appendicitis and it is not uncommon for symptoms attributed to gastroenteritis (inflammation of the intestines) or a urinary tract infection by medical professionals. However, appendicitis should always be safely ruled out before conclusively reaching a diagnosis as to another cause of patient’s symptoms because of the serious complications that can occur if appendicitis is missed. This is usually done through a combination of blood tests, a CT and/or ultrasound scan.

Unfortunately, we act for a number of clients for whom this did not happen. As a result, their appendix burst and/or their infections continued to develop and they have suffered avoidable injuries as a result.

If you or someone you know has been affected by a delay in diagnosis and/or treatment of appendicitis which has resulted in them suffering a worse outcome than they might have otherwise had, please contact our specialist team for advice.