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Appendicitis: Symptoms, Types, Causes, and Treatment Options | Max Hospital

Appendicitis: Types, Stages, Causes, and Treatment

By Dr. Jotinder Khanna in Laparoscopic / Minimal Access Surgery , General Surgery

Feb 08 , 2024 | 7 min read

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What is Appendicitis?

Appendicitis is a medical condition characterised by the inflammation of the appendix, a small organ on the lower right side of the abdomen. It occurs when the appendix becomes obstructed, which could be due to stool, foreign objects, infections, or swollen lymph nodes, leading to bacterial overgrowth and inflammation, resulting in pain, swelling, and a potential infection. If left untreated, appendicitis can progress to appendix rupture, a severe and potentially life-threatening complication. This rupture can allow the appendix's contents to spill into the abdominal cavity, leading to a condition known as peritonitis.

Types of Appendicitis

Appendicitis is generally classified into two main types based on its progression and severity:

  • Acute Appendicitis: This is the most common type of appendicitis, characterised by sudden and severe inflammation of the appendix. Prompt medical intervention is crucial, with the standard treatment being surgical removal through an appendix operation or appendectomy.
  • Chronic Appendicitis: Also known as recurrent appendicitis, it is less common. In chronic appendicitis, the inflammation is milder and may not always exhibit the classic symptoms of acute appendicitis. 

Acute Appendicitis vs Chronic Appendicitis


Acute Appendicitis Chronic Appendicitis
Onset of Inflammation Sudden Gradual, Intermittent
Symptom Severity Severe and intense Mild to moderate
Common Symptoms Abdominal pain, fever, nausea Symptoms may vary and be less specific
Treatment Immediate surgical removal (appendectomy) Surgical removal is still typically required
Urgency Medical emergency Not as urgent, but should be addressed

Common Causes of Appendicitis

The exact cause of appendicitis may not always be clear, as several factors and conditions can contribute to its development.

Fecaliths (Stool)

The most prevalent cause of appendicitis is the presence of fecaliths, which are hardened stool deposits that become trapped in the narrow opening of the appendix. Over time, these obstructions can lead to inflammation and infection within the appendix.

Enlarged Lymphoid Follicles

Enlarged lymphoid follicles can obstruct the appendix, often due to infections in other parts of the body. While this is a less common cause, it remains a relevant risk factor.

Foreign Bodies

Although rare, foreign objects accidentally ingested may become lodged in the appendix, causing blockages and increasing the risk of appendicitis.

Infections

Infections, particularly those affecting the gastrointestinal system, can lead to the swelling of appendix tissues, ultimately elevating the risk of appendicitis.

Tumours

Though infrequent, the presence of tumours within the appendix can cause appendicitis. This risk factor underscores the importance of early diagnosis and treatment.

Obstruction

Various factors, including obstructions in the appendix or nearby structures, can raise the likelihood of developing appendicitis. Identifying and addressing these obstructions is essential in preventing the condition.

Risk Factors of Appendicitis

Age

Appendicitis is more frequently observed in individuals between 10 and 30. Understanding this age-related risk can aid in identifying potential cases of appendicitis.

Gender

Appendicitis can affect individuals of all genders, but statistics show a slightly higher incidence in males.

Genetic Predisposition

Individuals with a family history of appendicitis may face an increased risk of developing the condition. Genetic factors play a role in this predisposition.

History of Abdominal Surgery

Previous abdominal surgeries can elevate the risk of appendicitis due to potential adhesions or scar tissue that might affect the appendix. This history should be considered in the evaluation of appendicitis cases.

Stages of Appendicitis

Appendicitis progresses in multiple stages, from early stage appendicitis symptoms to more severe manifestations. Broadly, there are 4 stages of appendicitis:

1. Early Inflammation

The initial stage of appendicitis is early inflammation. It usually commences with mild, vague abdominal pain near the navel, eventually shifting to the lower right abdomen. At this point, the pain may be intermittent and not notably severe. Common symptoms include nausea and a loss of appetite. It's crucial to recognize these early signs and promptly seek medical attention.

2. Suppurative Appendix

As the inflammation progresses to acute suppurative appendicitis, leading to the suppurative appendix stage. Pain intensifies and becomes localised in the lower right abdomen. Patients may experience a persistent fever, vomiting, and a general feeling of unwellness. Medical intervention is imperative at this stage to prevent further complications.

3. Gangrenous Appendix

If left untreated, appendicitis can progress to the critical stage of a gangrenous appendix. This condition occurs when inflammation compromises the blood supply to the appendix. Pain becomes excruciating, and the risk of complications, such as appendix rupture, significantly increases. Immediate surgery is necessary to remove the appendix and prevent infection.

4. Perforated Appendix

This stage represents complicated appendicitis, where the appendix ruptures or perforates. It is crucial to seek medical attention immediately for a condition that can spread infection throughout the abdominal cavity, leading to peritonitis. Symptoms include severe abdominal pain, high fever, and a rigid abdomen at this stage. Emergency surgery is required to clean the abdominal cavity and remove the damaged tissue to prevent further complications.

Additional Stages

In addition to these primary stages, there are other notable appendicitis-related conditions:

  • Phlegmonous Appendicitis or Abscess: An inflamed or perforated appendix may be walled off by the adjacent greater omentum or small bowel loops, resulting in phlegmonous appendicitis or a focal abscess.
  • Spontaneously Resolving Appendicitis: Occasionally, acute appendicitis may resolve spontaneously if the obstruction of the appendiceal lumen is relieved. This can occur when the cause of symptoms is lymphoid hyperplasia or when a fecalith is expelled from the lumen.
  • Recurrent Appendicitis: Approximately 10% of patients may experience recurrent appendicitis. This diagnosis is considered when a patient has multiple occurrences of right lower quadrant (RLQ) pain at different times, and post-appendectomy histopathology confirms inflammation of the appendix as the cause.

Complications of Appendicitis

Appendicitis is a medical emergency that can lead to severe complications if left untreated. These complications can progress in stages of appendicitis, but not all patients will experience them in the same way. Complications of appendicitis include:

  • Ischemia and Necrosis: Appendicitis often begins with severe swelling in the appendix, cutting off its blood supply, known as ischemia. This lack of blood flow leads to increased inflammation and, eventually, tissue decay, called necrosis.
  • Gangrene and Perforation: Once necrosis sets in, the infection can spread. It may progress slowly through internal gangrene or rapidly when the appendix tears or bursts, a condition known as perforation.
  • Abscess and Phlegmon Formation: In some cases, the infection may not spread far beyond the appendix, leading to an abscess, a localised pocket of pus. Additionally, the appendix can develop a mass around itself, referred to as a phlegmon, which contains the infection but can also burst.
  • Peritonitis and Systemic Infection: As the infection spreads into the peritoneal cavity, it can lead to peritonitis, which can spread to other organs and even enter the bloodstream, causing septicemia. Infection in the bloodstream can result in sepsis and septic shock, which can be life-threatening.

Diagnosis of Appendicitis

To diagnose appendicitis, the healthcare team typically follows a series of steps when examining the patient. They perform the following procedures to determine if the individual has appendicitis:

Physical Examination

A healthcare team member assesses the patient's symptoms and examines their abdomen during this examination. They apply gentle pressure to the painful area, checking for intensified pain upon sudden release, which may result from peritoneal inflammation. Additionally, signs of abdominal stiffness and the guarding reflex are observed. A digital rectal exam may be performed, and in cases of childbearing age, a pelvic exam is conducted to rule out other sources of pain.

Blood Test

A blood test is conducted to check for an elevated white blood cell count, which can indicate infection.

Urine Test

The patient might be required to undergo a urine test, also known as a urinalysis. This test helps rule out a urinary tract infection or kidney stones as potential causes of their pain.

Imaging Tests

To confirm the presence of appendicitis or explore other potential sources of pain, the healthcare team may use various imaging tests, such as:

Appendicitis Treatment

The appendix doctor devises a treatment plan tailored to the patient's condition when diagnosed with appendicitis. The most common approach involves a combination of antibiotics and an appendix surgery procedure or appendectomy. However, treatment for appendicitis can encompass a range of strategies, depending on the severity of the condition and individual factors. Here are some key elements that can be included in the treatment plan:

Antibiotics

In most cases, the initial phase of appendicitis treatment involves the administration of antibiotics. These medications help reduce infection and inflammation in the appendix, making surgery safer and more effective. However, there are rare instances in which mild appendicitis may improve solely with antibiotic therapy.

Surgical Intervention (Appendectomy)

An appendectomy, the surgical removal of the inflamed appendix, remains the gold standard for treating appendicitis. Surgical intervention is typically required after the initial antibiotic treatment to prevent the risk of complications such as appendix rupture.

Abscess Drainage

In certain situations, an abscess may develop as a result of appendicitis. If the abscess has not yet ruptured, the doctor may recommend needle drainage or a surgical procedure to drain the abscess before proceeding with the appendectomy. This step is crucial in reducing infection and ensuring a successful surgery.

Pain Management

Pain management is an integral part of appendicitis treatment. The healthcare provider prescribes pain relievers to alleviate discomfort and make recovery more manageable.

IV Fluids and Liquid Diet

The patient may receive IV fluids and a liquid diet to maintain hydration and nourishment before and after surgery.

When it comes to a condition as serious and potentially life-threatening as appendicitis, seeking immediate medical attention is paramount. At Max Hospitals, we prioritise your health and well-being. Our team of experienced specialists is well-equipped to provide the highest standard of care and ensure a swift and successful recovery. If you or a loved one has been experiencing any symptoms of appendicitis, reach out to our dedicated medical professionals for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment. Trust Max Hospitals for your medical needs, and let us be your partner in restoring health and peace of mind.