Until recently, appendicitis was one of the most common conditions affecting young people. Except for removal of the tonsils, removal of the appendix used to be performed more often than any other operation. However, within the past fifteen to twenty years, inflammation of the appendix doesn’t take place so often. Doctors think that the widespread use of the antibiotic medicines has cut down on the power and strength of the germs that used to cause appendicitis. Still, today, in undeveloped countries where they don’t have too many antibiotic medications available, appendicitis continues to be extremely common.
Appendicitis usually starts out like an ordinary stomachache, with crampy pains all over the abdominal area. Then, instead of the cramps disappearing by themselves, the patient develops nausea and vomiting. Following this within a few hours, the pain gets worse and travels down to the lower right side of the belly.
The appendix is about as long as a grown-up’s little finger and is shaped something like a worm. It is about as thick as a lead pencil. The appendix connects with the large intestine but, so far as we know, it has no function and isn’t really needed by our bodies at all.
When the appendix becomes infected, it swells and fills with pus. A child with appendicitis not only will feel pain in the abdomen, but when a doctor examines the area with his hand, it will feel very tender. Appendicitis causes fever and an increase in the number of white blood cells in the blood. The increased number of white cells helps to fight the germs that have produced the infection.
Because appendicitis often starts out like an ordinary upset stomach, a child is sometimes given a laxative or an enema. These are not good ways of treating appendicitis, and in many cases, it makes the condition worse. And so, there is a rule that almost all mothers know: Never give a child a laxative, an enema, or even food or liquid, when he has a stomachache.
The normal appendix Is three to five inches long and pinkish gray with a glistening coat. The inflamed appendix is much thicker, is altered in color, and contains pus.
An appendectomy is considered a routine operation in which a structure of no value to the body is removed. There are no problems unless the appendix is ruptured.
There are a couple of good ways to tell appendicitis from an ordinary upset stomach. Stomachaches caused by an upset stomach usually clear up by themselves within a few hours, while the pain of appendicitis continues in the belly and often gets worse if something isn’t done to treat it. Also, a child with a stomachache caused by an upset stomach will usually develop loose stools and diarrhea, while those with appendicitis are constipated or don’t move their bowels at all.
Once a doctor has decided that a child has appendicitis, he will recommend that he go to the hospital. Occasionally, a mild attack of appendicitis can be treated at home by giving antibiotics, but most cases will require that the appendix be removed by a surgeon in a hospital. It has been discovered that a child who has had one attack of appendicitis, even if it was very mild, will eventually get another attack. Therefore, the sensible thing to do is to remove the appendix with the first attack. Then the child will never have appendicitis again!
The operation for removal of the appendix is called an appendectomy. It is not a very serious operation, unless the condition has been neglected for a day or two. In the ordinary case, the child goes to sleep in the operating room and the appendix is removed in about fifteen to twenty minutes. The cut to remove the appendix is only about two to three inches long and is located in the lower right side of the abdomen.
After the operation, the child will have some pain where the incision was made, but in most cases the pain is not severe enough to prevent him from getting out of bed the day after the operation. The appetite may be poor for a few days after the appendix has been removed but it returns to normal within about a week’s time.
On the sixth or seventh day after an appendectomy, the stitches are removed. And, if the temperature is normal, in all probability, the child will be able to go home from the hospital.
Some youngsters worry about pam from removing stitches. Actually, it is not very painful at all. It takes less than a minute to cut them, and all a child feels is a slight sticking sensation. Rarely does it cause enough pain for a child to cry.
Children who have had their appendix removed usually stay home from school for about three weeks. This period of time is necessary for the cut to heal solidly. Of course, a child could go back to school earlier, but then he would have to be very careful not to run or play too hard with his classmates. And it isn’t always easy to do that, is it?
About two months after the appendix has been taken out, the wound has healed so solidly that children can resume all their activities, such as bicycling, tennis, swimming and diving, dancing, baseball, and all other sports.