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It used to be that almost everyone had their appendix removed at some point during their childhood. Now however, the surgery isn’t as common and many adults still have their appendix.

Appendicitis is the inflammation of the appendix, a small organ attached to the large intestine. In the past, doctors thought that the appendix didn’t have any function, but now they aren’t sure. Since we can live without our appendix, if it becomes infected, it is often removed by a surgery called an appendectomy.

Your appendix can become inflamed for a number of reasons. It can be blocked by mucus, stool (bowel movement), or lymphatic tissue, part of the lymphatic system that helps fight infection. The normally harmless bacteria in the appendix then begins to attack the appendix walls, resulting in inflammation and infection. If left untreated, this can rupture the appendix wall, causing the infection to spread in the abdomen and, possibly, throughout the body, resulting in sepsis or severe sepsis.

Sometimes incorrectly called blood poisoning, sepsis is the body’s often deadly response to infection. Sepsis kills and disables millions and requires early suspicion and rapid treatment for survival. Worldwide, one-third of people who develop sepsis die. Many who do survive are left with life-changing effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain and fatigue, organ dysfunction (don’t work properly), and/or amputations.

Sepsis may also occur as a complication of the surgery in general.

Common Appendicitis Symptoms

Appendicitis symptoms are not always obvious at first and the inflammation may have been developing for up to 48 hours before they are noticed. Because of this, it is important to seek medical help when the symptoms do appear. While everyone is different, the usual signs and symptoms of appendicitis include:

Early Symptoms

  • Constipation, diarrhea, or gas
  • Dull, achy pain beginning around the belly button (navel), turning to sharp pain in the lower right portion of the abdomen
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rebound tenderness: tenderness when pressure applied to the lower right abdomen is released

More Advanced Symptoms

  • Abdomen swelling and rigidity (hard)
  • Pain on the right side of the abdomen when pressed on the left side

If you suspect sepsis, call 9-1-1 or go to a hospital and tell your medical professional, “I AM CONCERNED ABOUT SEPSIS.” 

The information here is also available as a Sepsis Information Guide, which is a downloadable format for easier printing.

Would you like to share your story about sepsis or read about others who have had sepsis? Please visit Faces of Sepsis, where you will find hundreds of stories from survivors and tributes to those who died from sepsis.

Updated January 12, 2021.