Irshaad aged 20 had pain in lower abdomen since the past week. The pain got severe with sneezing, coughing or even on a bumpy road. He decided to visit the doctor when it was unbearable. He had appendicitis and required an immediate surgery because the infection had spread. And there was a high risk of appendix rupturing at any moment.
Appendix is a small tube at the junction of small and large intestine in lower abdomen near the right hipbone. It is approximately four inch long and seven to eight centimeters in diameter. Dr Sajid Sheik, a general surgeon at Saad Surgimed Hospital Faisalabad says, “it is commonly known as a reservoir of good bacteria which aids in digestion and also helps body fight disease and infection. It is therefore also a part of the immune system.”
According to National Institute of Digestive and Kidney Diseases in US, over five percent of their population can develop appendicitis at some point. Though it is more common in the teens and twenties, it can occur at any age. Dr Sajid says it prevalence in Pakistan is probably slightly lesser. He was however, unable to give an exact figure as there are no statistics available at national level in the country.
Bacteria, virus or other harmful microorganisms can cause infection which can then rupture the appendix. “When appendix bursts harmful and toxic matter spills in the abdomen causing severe inflammation of the lining of abdominal cavity which can prove fatal,” explains Dr Sajid.
Severe pain near the navel on the right side, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fever, difficulty in passing gas, painful urination, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, tender to touch abdominal area and severe abdominal cramps are common symptoms of appendicitis.
Diagnosis of appendicitis is often tricky, because symptoms resemble a few other diseases like, gastritis, urinary tract infection, gallbladder problems and ovary diseases. It is however, done by pressing the abdomen and feeling the swollen appendix. Blood tests can also reveal the condition because an increased white blood cell count indicates that body is fighting infection. “In more tricky cases MRI and CT scan can also show inflamed appendix,” says Dr Sajid.
Surgery is the only option for swollen appendix. There are two types of surgeries available nowadays. Laparoscopic surgery is a latest technique, which is done by using camera and making many small cuts to remove the infected appendix. While in traditional surgery a large cut is made to remove the organ. Some patients panic at the very name of surgery. “Recovery is faster with laparoscopic surgery because cuts are small,” says Dr Sajid. Clearing the misconceptions associated with surgery he says, “within twelve hours of surgery, a patient can get up and start moving with caution of course.” Antibiotics are prescribed to prevent infection from the cut. “As a precaution the patient must avoid hard physical activity for ten to fourteen days. Moreover, the patient should sleep well because proper sleep always helps body in quick healing.”
According to Dr Sajid appendicitis cannot be prevented but it has come in observation that it is less common in people who consume a good amount of fiber; whether in form of grains, fruits or vegetables. Moreover, in case of early diagnosis at the onset, the infection can be treated and the surgery can be prevented.
“Avoid taking pain killers as they only speed up the rupture process,” warns Dr Sajid. Drink water, milk and fruit juices. “These can help detoxify the body and expel the cause of infection and inflammation.”
Discussing the benefits of detox diet and drinks, Dr Umair Arshad Bajwa, in charge food sciences department at GC University Faisalabad says a mixture of carrot, beetroot and cucumber juice works as a strong detoxifier. “You can drink it to prevent as well as treat mild appendicitis and many other infections.”
The good news is that we can live without an appendix. According to Dr Sajid, the removal does not cause problems in normal healthy patients. “In rare cases, the removal can cause recurrent infections. This happens when the patient already has a weak immune system.”