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Appendicitis is an inflamed or infected appendix. The appendix is a 3- to 6-inch long, pouch-like structure in the lower right side of the belly, usually where the large intestine connects to the small intestine. The function of the appendix is not entirely clear. It may help the body fight infection, but it’s not a necessary organ.
Appendicitis is a medical emergency because an inflamed appendix can rupture and be life threatening.
Dignity Health provides reliable emergency care for appendicitis in the Sacramento region — find your nearest location and see our experienced emergency care team today. You can also use our online waiting service, InQuicker™, to select your estimated arrival time at one our six emergency rooms.
The appendix opens into the large intestine, or colon. Most cases of appendicitis result from mucus, stool, or a foreign body becoming trapped inside the appendix and blocking the opening. The obstructed appendix then becomes irritated, inflamed, or infected. If the appendix ruptures, contaminated contents from the appendix can leak into the abdominal cavity, resulting in a severe infection called peritonitis.
The main symptom of appendicitis is stomach pain. It often starts near the bellybutton and spreads to the lower right side. Sometimes, the whole belly area is painful. The pain usually occurs suddenly, progresses rapidly, and worsens when you move, cough, sneeze, or take a deep breath.
Other signs and symptoms of appendicitis include loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, fever and chills, bloating, constipation or diarrhea, and an inability to pass gas.
Seek medical help at Dignity Health immediately if you think you have appendicitis. Our emergency team may order a blood test to check for infection or an abdominal ultrasound or CT scan to see if the appendix is swollen.
Your options for treatment depend on whether or not your appendix has burst or not. Immediate surgery is the usual treatment for appendicitis because of the high risk of rupture. An inflamed appendix can rupture as soon as 48 to 72 hours after symptoms first start. Surgery to remove the appendix, called an appendectomy, can prevent peritonitis, a life-threatening complication related to rupture.
In some cases, people don’t realize they have appendicitis until their appendix bursts. This is more common in very young or very old people, as well as during pregnancy. If your appendix ruptures, you can become very ill very quickly. Surgery to remove the appendix and clean out the belly is necessary. Your hospital stay will likely be longer with a burst appendix.