Appendicitis Case Study

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An appendicectomy (or appendectomy) is the surgical removal of the vermiform appendix. This procedure is normally performed as an emergency procedure, when the patient is suffering from acute appendicitis. In the absence of surgical facilities, intravenous antibiotics are used to delay or avoid the onset of sepsis; it is now recognized that many cases will resolve when treated non-operatively. In some cases the appendicitis resolves completely; more often, an inflammatory mass forms around the appendix. This is a relative contraindication to surgery.


Appendicitis is inflammation of the appendix. It is thought that appendicitis begins when the opening from the appendix into the cecum becomes blocked. The blockage may be due to a build-up of thick mucus within the appendix or to stool that enters the appendix from the cecum. The mucus or stool hardens, becomes rock-like, and blocks the opening. This rock is called a fecalith (literally, a rock of stool). At other times, the lymphatic tissue in the appendix may swell and block the appendix. Bacteria which normally are found within the appendix then begin to invade (infect) the wall of the appendix. The body responds to the invasion by mounting an attack on the bacteria, an attack called inflammation. (An alternative theory for the cause of appendicitis is an initial rupture of the appendix followed by spread of bacteria outside the appendix.. The cause of such a rupture is unclear, but it may relate to changes that occur in the lymphatic tissue that line the wall of the appendix.) If the inflammation and infection spread through the wall of the appendix, the appendix can rupture. After rupture, infection can spread throughout the abdomen; however, it usually is confined to a small area surrounding the appendix (forming a peri-appendiceal abscess). Sometimes, the body is successful in containing ("healing") the appendicitis without surgical treatment if the infection and accompanying inflammation do not spread throughout the abdomen. The inflammation, pain and symptoms may disappear. This is particularly true in elderly patients and when antibiotics are used. The patients then may come to the doctor long after the episode of appendicitis with a lump or a mass in the right lower abdomen that is due to the scarring that occurs during healing.


The diagnosis begins with a thorough history and physical examination. Patients often have an elevated temperature, and there usually will be moderate to severe tenderness in the right lower abdomen when the doctor pushes there. If inflammation has spread to the peritoneum, there is frequently rebound tenderness. This means that when the doctor pushes on the abdomen and then quickly releases his hand, the pain becomes suddenly but transiently worse. White Blood Cell Count

The white blood cell count in the blood usually becomes elevated with infection. In early appendicitis, before infection sets in, it can be normal, but most often there is at least a mild elevation even early. Unfortunately, appendicitis is not the only condition that causes elevated white blood cell counts. Almost any infection or inflammation can cause this count to be abnormally high. Therefore, an elevated white blood cell count alone cannot be used as a sign of appendicitis. Urinalysis

Urinalysis is a microscopic examination of the urine that detects red blood cells, white blood cells and bacteria in the urine. Urinalysis usually is abnormal when there is inflammation or stones in the kidneys or bladder which sometimes can be confused with appendicitis. Therefore, an abnormal urinalysis suggests that there is a kidney or bladder problem while a normal urinalysis is more characteristic of appendicitis. Abdominal X-Ray

An abdominal x-ray may detect the fecalith (the hardened and calcified, pea-sized piece of stool that blocks the appendiceal opening) that may be the cause of appendicitis. This...
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