Signs and symptoms
Location of the appendix in the digestive system
Pain first, vomiting next and fever last has been described as the classic presentation of acute appendicitis. Since the innervation of the appendix enters the spinal cord at the level T10, the same level as the umbilicus (belly button), the pain begins mid-abdomen. Later, as the appendix becomes more inflamed and irritates the adjoining abdominal wall, it tends to localize over several hours into the right lower quadrant, except in children under three years. This pain can be elicited through various signs and can be severe. Signs include localized findings in the right iliac fossa. The abdominal wall becomes very sensitive to gentle pressure (palpation). Also, there is severe pain on sudden release of deep pressure in the lower abdomen (rebound tenderness). In case of a retrocecal appendix (appendix localized behind the cecum), however, even deep pressure in the right lower quadrant may fail to elicit tenderness (silent appendix), the reason being that the cecum, distended with gas, protects the inflamed appendix from the pressure. Similarly, if the appendix lies entirely within the pelvis, there is usually complete absence of abdominal rigidity. In such cases, a digital rectal examination elicits tenderness in the rectovesical pouch. Coughing causes point tenderness in this area (McBurney's point) and this is the least painful way to localize the inflamed appendix. If the abdomen on palpation is also involuntarily guarded (rigid), there should be a strong suspicion of peritonitis, requiring urgent surgical intervention. Causes
On the basis of experimental evidence, acute appendicitis seems to be the end result of a primary obstruction of the appendix lumen (the inside space of a tubular structure). Once this obstruction occurs, the appendix subsequently becomes filled with mucus and swells, increasing pressures within the lumen and the walls of the appendix, resulting in thrombosis and occlusion of the small vessels, and stasis of lymphatic flow. Rarely, spontaneous recovery can occur at this point. As the former progresses, the appendix becomes ischemic and then necrotic. As bacteria begin to leak out through the dying walls, pus forms within and around the appendix (suppuration). The end result of this cascade is appendiceal rupture (a 'burst appendix') causing peritonitis, which may lead to septicemia and eventually death. The causative agents include foreign bodies, trauma, intestinal worms, lymphadenitis, and, most commonly, calcified fecal deposits known as appendicoliths or fecaliths The occurrence of obstructing fecaliths has attracted attention since their presence in patients with appendicitis is significantly higher in developed than in developing countries, and an appendiceal fecalith is commonly associated with complicated appendicitis. Also, fecal stasis and arrest may play a role, as demonstrated by a significantly lower number of bowel movements per week in patients with acute appendicitis compared with healthy controls. The occurrence of a fecalith in the appendix seems to be attributed to a right-sided fecal retention reservoir in the colon and a prolonged transit time. From...