What is Appendicitis?
When we hear about people having their appendix removed, it’s usually due to an impending need within an emergency setting. Appendicitis can cause a wide range of painful health complications if not treated right away. Along with the risk of death from an infected appendix, appendicitis can cause progressive pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and constipation. Most patients will lose their appetite, which in turn causes them to lose weight and decreases their nutrient stores. For many years, doctors didn’t know the true function of the appendix but, in recent studies, the appendix has been found to be an environment for 'friendly bacteria', that is, those bacteria that assist the body in fighting infections. Due to appendicitis, people will often have their appendixes removed, and thus never reap these immunological benefits.
How is It Spread?
The two leading causes of this painful disease are other infections and obstructions. Infections, especially those of the lymphatic system, can find their way into the appendix if they are systemic in nature. It is not caused by being exposed to someone already infected. Obstruction is caused when a piece of stool, hair, or other foreign body becomes lodged in the appendix, and the bacteria from such obstructions can then infect it.
How Deadly is Appendicitis?
The inflammation caused by appendicitis, when left untreated, can cause the appendix to burst. After an appendix bursts, infectious materials are spilled out into the abdominal cavity and can cause poisoning through sepsis. In extreme cases, appendicitis can lead to peritonitis, which is a much more severe version, and can cause death. To prevent such fatalities, surgeries are preformed to remove the appendix (appendectomy). In fact, an estimated 250,000 appendectomies are performed each year in the US alone. Due to medical advances, people rarely die from appendicitis in developed countries today. Nonetheless, the disease does maintain a 1% mortality rate.
How Widespread is this Disease?
In many Third-World countries, Appendicitis is a concern, as many don’t have proper access to medical care in the event they become infected. With that being said, it is the population of the Developed World that is more commonly afflicted by appendicitis than the Third World. Researchers say the reason for this is due to differences in defecation habits, namely the toilets we use, as they serve as environments for other infections to spread and subsequently increase risk. In Western society, it is common for someone to have their appendix removed when infected, and many people walk around living unharmed without one today. Despite its debatably beneficial purposes, the human body can certainly survive without it.
Is There a Cure?
As far as treatment goes, surgery and removal of the appendix have proven most effective, although antibiotics are available for use to combat infections. These surgeries can either be done one of two ways. The first means is through an abdominal incision, and the second is a procedure by the name of a 'laparascopical appendectomy'. When appendicitis presents itself, cases are usually seen as a medical emergency. As such, it is usually recommended by doctors that patients have their appendix removed rather than rely on antibiotics, due to the off chance the illness should take an extreme turn for the worse.
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