Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix, a 3 1/2-inch-long tube of tissue that extends from the large intestine. No one is absolutely certain what the function of the appendix is. One thing we do know: We can live without it, without apparent consequences.
Appendicitis is a medical emergency that requires prompt surgery to remove the appendix. Left untreated, an inflamed appendix will eventually burst, or perforate, spilling infectious materials into the abdominal cavity. This can lead to peritonitis, a serious inflammation of the abdominal cavity's lining (the peritoneum) that can be fatal unless it is treated quickly with strong antibiotics.
Sometimes a pus-filled abscess (infection that is walled off from the rest of the body) forms outside the inflamed appendix. Scar tissue then "walls off" the appendix from the rest of the abdomen, preventing infection from spreading. An abscessed appendix is a less urgent situation, but unfortunately, it can't be identified without surgery. For this reason, all cases of appendicitis are treated as emergencies, requiring surgery.
In the U.S., 1 in 15 people will get appendicitis. Although it can strike at any age, appendicitis is rare under age 2 and most common between ages 10 and 30.
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Archived: March 20, 2014
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