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What is Appendix Inflammation?

Appendix inflammation, commonly known as appendicitis, is a potentially serious medical condition in which the appendix, a small, fleshy tube which protrudes from the large intestine, becomes swollen. It often occurs in response to infection or blockage of the intestinal tract. Generally, appendix inflammation is accompanied by a number of unpleasant and even painful symptoms. As an inflamed appendix can burst, which can in turn lead to a life-threatening infection of the abdominal tissue, physicians usually recommend the immediate removal of the swollen appendage.

Often, appendix inflammation occurs in response to an infection of the intestinal tract. It may also occur when the appendix becomes blocked by waste, a growth such as a cyst or tumor or a foreign object. In many cases, however, the cause of appendix inflammation is unknown.

Generally, an individual with appendix inflammation becomes aware of his condition when he experiences one or more of its typical symptoms. Perhaps the most universal symptom of appendix inflammation is pain which begins around the navel and then travels to the lower right portion of the abdomen over the course of a few hours. Often this pain is mild at first, but becomes more acute as it travels. Other common symptoms include fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation.

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As the symptoms of appendix inflammation can be similar to those of several other illnesses, such as gastroenteritis and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), the condition can be difficult to diagnose. If a physician suspects appendix inflammation, she will likely perform a physical examination of the abdomen to check for swelling, and she may draw a blood sample to test for infection. She may also order imaging tests, such as an ultrasound or computerized tomography (CT) scan, so that she can study the appendix.

An inflamed appendix can burst, which can in turn lead to a life-threatening infection of the abdominal tissue, a condition known as peritonitis. Therefore, if it seems possible that a patient has appendicitis, his physician will generally recommend the immediate removal of the appendix. This procedure, known as an appendectomy, usually requires a two- to four-week recovery period, and may leave a small scar on the abdomen. It is generally agreed that the benefits of an appendectomy greatly outweigh these inconveniences, however. Removing a swollen appendix before it bursts can prevent more serious health issues, and as the appendix serves no known function, its removal has no negative medical consequences.

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