Dr. Travis Stork from the hit TV show The Doctors explains the causes and treatments for appendicitis.

What is appendicitis and what are the warning signs?

Appendicitis, put simply is inflammation of the appendix — a small pouch-like appendage attached to the colon. In the past, we did not fully understand the purpose of the appendix, but we are learning that it may actually have an important biological function as a reservoir for your gut bacteria.

Genetics may be a factor, but inflammation of the appendix is most commonly caused by a hard mass of feces that blocks its opening. Bacterial or viral infections in the digestive tract can also lead to inflammation that, in turn, squeezes the appendix and can cause obstruction.

Interestingly, the symptoms of appendicitis can be quite different depending on the individual. Some of the most common signs of the condition in adults and children are abdominal pain, loss of appetite, fever, nausea and vomiting. Abdominal tenderness may start around the umbilicus (belly button) and over time migrate to the right-lower third of the abdomen. The area where the appendix is located can be found by drawing a line from the belly button to the top of the iliac crest (see diagram).

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Pain from appendicitis can intensify and worsen when moving, taking deep breaths, coughing or sneezing. Other identifying signs can be a lack of appetite and “rebound tenderness” — when you press in one area of the abdomen and let go, the inflammation of the appendix causes “rebound” pain.

A CT scan of the abdomen is very effective in diagnosis of appendicitis, but ultrasound is also used. The condition can occur at any age but tends to be most common between 10 and 30.

The traditional treatment for appendicitis is an emergency appendectomy — a surgery to remove the appendix. It’s estimated that this medical procedure is performed on more than 300,000 Americans each year, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine (NIH/NLM).

It is important that if an individual is concerned about appendicitis they be seen by a doctor. If not treated quickly and appropriately, it can become life-threatening if the appendix ruptures and leads to an infection.

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Travis Stork, M.D., is a board-certified emergency room physician and the host of the Emmy Award-winning TV series The Doctors, The New York Times best-selling author of The Doctor’s Diet, and The Doctor’s Diet Cookbook. Visit thedoctorstv.com for more information.