It used to be that almost everyone had their appendix removed at some point during their childhood. Now, 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. Doctors thought that the appendix didn’t have any function in the past, but now they aren’t sure. Since we can live without our appendix, it is often removed by a surgery called an appendectomy if it becomes infected.
Your appendix can become inflamed for several 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 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 life-threatening response to infection. Like strokes or heart attacks, sepsis is a medical emergency that requires rapid diagnosis and treatment.
Worldwide, one-third of people who develop sepsis die. Many who 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 apparent at first, and the inflammation may have been developing for up to 48 hours before they are noticed. Because of this, it is essential to seek medical help when the symptoms do appear. While everyone is different, the usual signs and symptoms of appendicitis include:
- 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, 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 24, 2022.