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Ask the Expert: Appendicitis–symptoms, causes and myths

Dr. Jason Hindman, a general surgeon for Baptist Medical Group, answers questions for this month’s Ask the Expert on appendicitis, an inflammation or infection of the end of the right side of the colon.

1. What are the symptoms of appendicitis?
Pain starting around the belly button then moving to the right lower side of the abdomen with loss of appetite with nausea and possible vomiting.

2. What causes appendicitis?
Inflammation that causes swelling and then low blood flow to the appendix. When that happens, a small hole develops, which leads to abscess formation.

3. How is appendicitis diagnosed?
Mostly by history and physical exam, but now CT scans help significantly.

4. What are the treatment options for appendicitis?
The best option is removal of the appendix, which can be done using the laparoscope (cameras) or in severe cases, open operation.

5. What are the risks/benefits associated with an appendectomy?
The risks are minimal mostly due to anesthesia risks, but the benefits are removing a piece of colon that may or may not help our bodies and usually is a source of significant pain and infection.

6. How can appendicitis be prevented?
Nothing has been shown to help in prevention.

7. What are some common myths about appendicitis?
Eating a big meal after a workout is one, but there is no evidence that a connection exists. Another is eating seedy vegetables like tomatoes, lemons, or watermelons causes appendicitis, but the benefit of a healthy diet, which includes these types of vegetables and fruits, outweigh any risk that they could cause appendicitis.

8. How often are people diagnosed with appendicitis?
Out of every 100,000 people, 233 will be diagnosed with appendicitis. It is more common in males than females; four times as many men will get appendicitis as women.

9. Can appendicitis be deadly?
Yes, if left untreated. This applies mostly to the elderly and children whose bodies may not be able to handle the infection.