RICE & MICE: The appendix, appendicitis, and appendectomies

When is a belly ache more than just an ache? When is it something more serious? Well, appendicitis comes to mind as one such serious occasion. For a part of the body that has no real vital purpose, the appendix sure can cause a lot of commotion.  The big scientific name for the appendix is vermiform appendix. Vermiform is Latin for “worm-shaped” and worm-shaped it most certainly is.
appendix cartoon

You take a bite of a burger, chew and swallow, the food moves out of your mouth, down your esophagus and into the stomach, being digested all along the way. When the stomach is done with it, the food moves into the small intestine, and continues to be digested and nutrients absorbed from it until it reaches the end of the small intestine and the beginning of the large intestine, or colon in the lower right side of the belly, which is called the cecum.  The appendix is attached to the cecum; it’s a narrow out pocketing of the large intestine. The Appendix

Appendicitis is an inflammation or infection of the appendix. There is no clear cause of appendicitis – no rhyme or reason as to why it happens or why some people develop it and others don’t. There are no risk factors and no steps that can be taken to prevent it. It can strike anyone, though most commonly affects ages 10-30. Approximately 8% of people will have appendicitis and it seems to hit a few hockey players each year. Players that have undergone appendectomies so far this season include Jamie Benn, Patrick Sharp and Craig Adams. Both Adams and Patrick Sharp both bid farewell to their respective appendix before training camp started this summer. Jamie Benn, on the other hand, missed five games just before the 2012 NHL All-Star weekend:

“I played an afternoon game on Saturday (Jan. 14). I felt good. I felt good all night. I just went to bed, woke up on Sunday, wasn’t feeling too hot. I went to the hospital and had some tests and had (my appendix) removed that night.”

Actually, Benn returned to win the shooting accuracy challenge, help his team in the skills challenge and compete in the All-Star Game.

The first symptom of appendicitis is usually pain right around your belly button. The pain may be minor at first, but it usually gets worse and there may be fever, nausea, vomiting and usually people don’t want to eat much. As the infection worsens and the appendix gets more swollen and inflamed, the pain moves down and to the right at a spot called McBurney’s point. McBurney's point To find McBurney’s point touch your hip bone (the anterior superior iliac spine) and move 1/3 of the total distance to your belly button.  The pain usually moves to McBurney’s point within a day of thestart of appendicitis. If left untreated the appendix can get so full of pus that it breaks, or ruptures, which is serious bad news. A ruptured appendix can cause general infection in the abdominal cavity or the body can contain the infection in a smaller area and form an abscess. A generalized infection in the abdominal cavity can end in shock and death if it isn’t treated. Pain may be worse with walking or movement.

Blood tests will show a high white blood cell count, which indicates infection and a CT scan of the abdomen will usually confirm appendicitis. Sometimes, an ultrasound can be done in young children instead of the CT scan.

Treating appendicitis involves surgical removal of the appendix. This is called an appendectomy. Appendectomies are commonly done laparoscopically, though open surgery is also still done to remove the appendix.  If an appendectomy is uncomplicated, the recovery time is as little as 2-6 weeks. Recovery involves rest and limited physical activity.

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