Why would someone get an appendectomy?
Most people get an appendectomy because they're suffering from appendicitis, meaning their appendix is swelling and could possibly burst. Appendicitis is most common in people younger than 30.
The appendix is attached to the large intestine, located in the lower right area of your abdomen, not far from your belly button. It has no known function, so having it removed likely will not affect your quality of life.
In rare circumstances, a doctor will perform an appendectomy because someone has a tumor, sometimes cancerous, in or around the appendix. Also, women, in rare circumstances, could suffer from endometriosis of the appendix, irregular growth of the cells that line the uterus.
The cause of appendicitis isn't always clear. Also, it can be hard to distinguish whether you have appendicitis or indigestion. If you're suffering from appendicitis, you won't feel well, and you will have a pain that will slowly move to the right lower abdomen. You will probably vomit and feel nauseous.
Unlike indigestion, which can cause a cramping pain, appendicitis can cause constant pain. You probably will lose your appetite.
If you or your family member is concerned you're suffering from appendicitis, it's best to seek medical attention. Research shows the risk of the appendix rupturing increases after 36 hours of untreated symptoms. As appendicitis worsens, a person might suffer from chills, constipation, diarrhea, fever, shaking and vomiting.
When you arrive at the hospital, a doctor might order a CT scan or ultrasound. A radiologist can sometimes tell through testing whether you're suffering from appendicitis. However, you will probably not undergo extensive testing, for time is an important factor when dealing with appendicitis.
At the beginning of the surgery, your doctor might fill up your stomach with a gas to elevate the stomach wall, lifting it away from the intestines. This can sometimes help reduce injury during surgery.
Some doctors perform a laparoscopic appendectomy, which involves less cutting than traditional surgery. All surgeons have their own techniques. Generally, if your doctor performs a laparoscopic appendectomy, he or she will make a few small cuts in your abdomen and insert ports around your abdomen area.
Your doctor will next use a small camera to look inside your abdomen. Medical instruments will be inserted inside the ports to help free the appendix from your intestines, and your appendix will be removed. If you suffer from contamination or infection, the area will be rinsed with saline.
Does it hurt?
After the surgery, you likely will have some pain. As with every surgery, some patients feel more pain than others do.
The gas that's put in your stomach during the procedure stretches the abdominal wall, a process that can cause pain in your abdomen and sometimes in your shoulder. After a few days, most pain should be gone.
What are the risk factors?
As with any surgery, there's always risk for infection and bleeding. Risk is higher, but still rare, if you've had other surgeries before and have scar tissue from those surgeries.
Because anesthesia is often used during the surgery, there's a risk that you will suffer from a reaction to the anesthesia or have problems breathing.
What's the recovery time?
Appendicitis becomes more serious if your appendix is ruptured. Also, if your appendix bursts, the infection can sometimes form what's known as an abscess, a pocket of pus and infection around the appendix. It takes longer to recover if either of these things happens. You might be in the hospital for a few days, and it could take you up to two months to recover.
If you have an uncomplicated case of appendicitis, meaning your appendix didn't burst, you might be able to leave the hospital the same day. Once you're home, you'll probably be down for about a week.
Your doctor will likely recommend no heavy lifting for at least a week.
What's the follow-up?
You shouldn't need a follow-up surgery, but your doctor will probably want to see you again. Your doctor will want to check your wounds, ensure you don't have fever, and that you're using the bathroom regularly.
Sources: Svein Holsaeter, a general surgeon at St. Anthony; National Center for Biotechnology Information; National Institutes of Health