How to Self-Diagnose Appendicitis
Do you need your appendix out?
Let me start by saying that I AM NOT A MEDICAL DOCTOR. I have no training in diagnosis or treament of any disease or condition. What I do have are some cuts in my belly where my appendix was a few days ago--I was lucky enough to see medical professionals at the right time--and wanted to share my experience with anyone else going through the same painful process. Here are some basic guidelines to help determine whether or not what you're feeling is in fact appendicitis:
1. Stomach Pain You feel a pain in your gut. A stomachache that seems familiar. A sensation that may have once caused you to announce to your kindetgarten teacher, "I hafta fart." It hurts in the front of your abdomen, to the left, right, and middle. Could be indigestion, or a bad case of heartburn.
What happens next tells you if it's your appendix or not. If the pain goes away after a while, or if some Tums or Pepto Bismol or ginger ale does the trick, it probably was gas, indigestion, or heartburn. If the pain stays and you're getting chills, body aches, cold sweats, it's probably just the flu--you know the drill on that. If not, read on...
Ok, it's a few hours later (or the next morning), and the pain is bad. Same place, but stronger. It's like ten thousand tiny sabres, pushing out, poking at your stomach and intestines. Pressure and pain, pain and pressure, maybe worse than you've ever felt.
2. Nausea/Vomiting and Right Side Sensitivity The over-the-counter stomach medicine you took came up an hour or two later (nasty), as did anything else you ate to try to settle your tum-tum. If you get to this point, try a little self-exam: push aganst your stomach with medium pressure on the left, middle (right below your belly button), and right side. It'll most likely hurt in all three places, but the key is where it hurts the most. Your appendix hangs off the end of your large intestine (or colon), on the right side of you amdomen. If pushing on the right side makes the pain go from 100 to 1,000, that's a pretty solid indicator that your appendix is inflamed--appendicitis.
3. Fever Perhaps the least significant symptom to look for is a fever, mostly because it could be an indicator of a variety of other health problems (such as a flu, as mentioned above). Combined with the other symptoms, however, a fever can be the clinching factor that indicates appedicitis. Because appendicitis is a bacterial infection of the appendix, your immune system raises your body temperature (to between 99˚ and 103˚F) to try and kill of the problematic bacteria.
If all that describes what you've going through, see a doctor IMMEDIATELY or get yourself to the closest hospital emergency room. This is critical, because an untreated, inflamed appendix could burst, PUTTING YOUR LIFE AT RISK. The doctors will do a bunch of tests and tell you for sure what your problem is. If they confirm that it is appendicitis, they will probably operate as soon as possible to get your appendix out. Once again, if you have felt all of what's described above stop reading right now and SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION. If you don't, you could die!
So, that's the run down on appendicitis. Brutal pain, but a simple problem with a simple solution. Because your appendix (like your wisdom teeth) is pretty much useless to the inner workings of your body, taking it out doesn't really present any problems. Your appendix is a tiny pouch of tissue that hangs off of your large intestine, but doesn't help with digestion. A nurse at the hospital told me she heard from a med professor that it was once a pouch used to store rocks in our caveman anscestors, which they swallowed to help digest raw meat and other unpleasant caveman food. About 1 out of 15 people get appendicitis, usually between the ages of 10 and 30.
After admittance to a hospital and prior to surgery, appendicitis patiens can expect to be treated for pain and bacterial infection. Intraveanous pain medication, hydrating fluids, and antibiotics are usually administered. Additional examinations such as a CAT scan may also be used to visually examine the appendix for inflamation to be sure of an accurate diagnosis.
As for the surgery, it's pretty routine, and therefore not terribly risky as surgeries go. Modern techniques allow for a laproscopic (also known as minimally-invasive surgery--tiny tube-shaped tools are used to perform the operation through three or four small incisions in the abdomen) appendectomy. Certain circumstances may require a traditional appendectomy (one large incision directly over the appendix), which requires a longer recovery time, due to the larger incision in the abdominal wall. Although the recovery time for laproscopic surgery is slightly shorter, appendectomy patients should not count on lifting heavy objects, running, biking, spelunking, or participating in any other high-intensity physical activities for four to six weeks after the operation.