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Your appendix

appendix; appendicitis; bellyache; pain; infection; inflammation;


What is your appendix?

Your appendix is a small tube about the same size as your little finger.

  • appendixIt is attached to the beginning of your large intestine (the caecum - say: see-kem), near where the small and large intestines meet.
  • One end opens into the large intestine but the other end is closed.
  • It has a lining which passes fluid from the blood vessels into the middle of the appendix.
  • The wall of the appendix also contains cells which help fight infections (rather like the cells in your tonsils), and muscles which push the fluid out into the large bowel. The fluid cannot go the other way and get out into the abdomen because the other end of the appendix is closed.

In some animals the appendix is large and some of the animal's food is broken down (digested) inside the appendix. In humans the appendix does not help with digestion. This means that if your appendix needs to be removed there is no problem with digesting your food.

What is appendicitis?

If the open end of the appendix gets blocked up for some reason, like something large in the intestine getting stuck there, or when the cells that fight infections cause the lining of the appendix to swell up, the fluid cannot get out of the appendix into the bowel.

feeling sickThe appendix gets larger, and the muscles around the appendix squeeze harder to try to push the fluid out of the appendix. This hard squeezing causes pain which comes and goes (called 'colicky pain').

When the appendix gets larger and tighter, blood can not flow easily to the walls of the appendix, and part of the wall can become damaged so that the contents of the appendix can leak out into abdominal cavity (burst appendix).

What happens if you have appendicitis?

  • First there is usually pain around the navel - your belly button.
  • The pain becomes sharper and stronger (colic).
    seeing the doctor
  • The pain starts to move to the right hand side of your lower abdomen.
  • You may not feel like eating, you might feel sick and have a raised temperature (a fever).
  • If the appendix gets too swollen it may burst and fluid can leak out around it.
    • This causes an infection around the appendix called peritonitis.
    • This infection may spread to other parts of your abdomen, and you could become very sick.

Your doctor will be able to tell if you have problems with your appendix by taking your temperature, feeling your tummy and asking you questions about the pain and other signs that might show that you are unwell. Sometimes your doctor may get an ultrasound examination done.

  • having an ultrasoundAn ultrasound doesn't hurt. A jelly is rubbed on your tummy, then a thing like a computer mouse is moved over the surface of your tummy. Pictures of your insides can be seen on a computer screen. You might be able to see the pictures that the person doing the ultrasound can see - it is really interesting.

If your doctor thinks you might have appendicitis, sometimes she or he will get you to wait a while to see if you get better without an operation. YOu may be given antibiotics (ant-ti-bi-ot-ics) to help your body fight infection. But sometimes your doctor will decide that you need an operation called an appendicectomy (ap-pen-di-sec-tom-ee).

So what does this mean for you?

  • You will be taken to a special room in a hospital called an operating theatre.
    in hospital
  • One doctor will give you some medicine through a small needle (usually into the back of your hand) to make you go to sleep. This doctor is called an anaesthetist (an-ees-the-tist.
  • Another doctor will make a small cut in the wall of your tummy and remove the appendix. This doctor is called a surgeon (sur-jun).
  • You do not feel pain during the operation because you will be asleep.
  • When you wake up your tummy will probably be a bit sore and you may feel a bit unwell. If you have a lot of pain, you will be able to take some medicine to reduce the pain.
  • Usually kids need to stay in hospital for one or two days until they are able to walk around comfortably, able to eat a meal and can do wees and poos without any problems.

Did you know that people who went on expeditions to far off places often had their appendix out before they went just in case they had problems while they were away, when it would be too difficult to get them out of there?

Dr Kim says

Dr KimSome scientists believe that the appendix does have a useful function in the body. They have done research which suggests that the appendix stores good bacteria that the body needs. If the good bacteria in the digestive system are damaged or wiped out by a severe infection in the bowel they say that the appendix may release the bacteria it has been storing back into the rest of the bowel.

Many people have had their appendix out and it doesn't make any difference to their health, apart from getting rid of a painful problem.

recovering in hospital

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We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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