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What is an Appendectomy?

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  • Written By: Elizabeth West
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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An appendectomy is the surgical removal of the appendix, a small pouch-like structure attached to the cecum, which is part of the large intestine. The appendix can become inflamed, and if it bursts can cause a serious abdominal infection called peritonitis. This surgery may be performed in an open or laparoscopic procedure. Recovery typically takes just a few weeks, unless there are complications.

When a patient complains of pain in the lower right abdomen, nausea, and fever, the doctor will suspect appendicitis. The inflammation may be caused by another gastric infection or a bit of fecal matter or food waste that has become caught in the appendix. Pain may temporarily stop when the appendix bursts, indicating a dangerous situation. The doctor will perform a physical exam, test the blood for signs of infection, and perhaps order imaging tests to confirm the diagnosis. If an appendectomy is needed, it will be scheduled quickly.

An appendectomy is considered emergency surgery. Most insurance plans cover the operation, although hospitals and doctors may charge additional fees. The risks associated with untreated appendicitis are significant. Peritonitis is a serious infection that is life-threatening. A doctor will strongly recommend this surgery if appendicitis is suspected or confirmed.

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A laparoscopic appendectomy is performed using instruments inserted through several small incisions in the abdomen. The surgeon employs a video camera at the end of a long tube to see inside. Organs are examined and the appendix is removed from the cecum, which is then stitched up where the appendix was attached.

In an open appendectomy, the surgeon makes a three-inch (7.62 cm) incision in the lower right abdomen. The appendix is brought up into the wound and separated, and then the cecum is stitched up and returned to its place. This procedure is used when the appendix has burst or there are other complications, such as an abscess. Both open and laparoscopic appendectomies usually take about an hour.

Patients may spend a day or two in the hospital after an appendectomy, and may begin a clear liquid diet when the stomach and intestines have recovered. Strenuous activity should be avoided for a few days to a few weeks, depending on the procedure, and the abdomen should be braced with a pillow when coughing. Complications include infection, pneumonia, abdominal fistulas, and adhesions, and are more likely in cases where the appendix has ruptured. Most patients are fully recovered in three weeks.

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