What is appendicitis?
Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix, a small, tube-like structure once believed to be useless. However, a new theory holds that the appendix may have the important function of producing and protecting the good intestinal bacteria that help keep disease in check. The appendix is attached to the first part of the large intestine (the colon), and is located in the lower right portion of the abdomen.

What are the symptoms of appendicitis?
Symptoms include pain and tenderness in the abdomen that begin as vague discomfort around the navel and then move to the lower right. Over the next few hours, the pain becomes much more intense and is localized to the lower right side of the abdomen. The abdomen may become rigid and very sensitive to pressure. The pain worsens when you move, take a deep breath, cough or sneeze. Other symptoms can include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, constipation or diarrhea, the inability to pass gas, a low fever that begins after other symptoms develop and abdominal swelling. Not everyone with appendicitis develops all of these symptoms. Some people report a feeling that a bowel movement will relieve their discomfort. Anyone can get appendicitis, but it occurs most often between the ages of 10 and 30.

What are the causes of appendicitis?
Obstruction of the inside of the appendix by fecal matter or food waste is the usual cause of appendicitis. The blockage leads to increased pressure, impaired blood flow, and inflammation. Appendicitis can also develop after an infection in the digestive tract that leads to swelling of lymph nodes, which squeeze the appendix causing obstruction or inflammation. Appendicitis occasionally runs in families. If so, it may be due to some genetic variation that predisposes a person to develop the types of blockage that cause the inflammation. Appendicitis usually comes on quickly with little warning and worsens over a period of six to 12 hours.

What is the conventional treatment of appendicitis?
Once it starts, appendicitis is considered a medical emergency. There is no treatment other than surgery to remove the inflamed appendix. Delaying surgery can lead to a burst appendix that can result in infection and even death. The surgery can be done either via an abdominal incision or laparascopically. With the laparascopic method, the surgeon views the inside of the abdomen through a long metal tube that has a lens on which a miniature television camera is attached. The tube and the surgical instruments are inserted through small incisions in the abdomen. If you have laparascopic surgery, you probably will be sent home from the hospital the day of the operation. If you have an open incision, you’ll be up and walking within six hours of surgery and can expect to leave the hospital in one to two days.

What therapies does Dr. Weil recommend for appendicitis?
While there is no alternative to surgery as a treatment for appendicitis, you should request an intravenous (IV) drip of high doses of vitamin C during the operation. High levels of vitamin C speed the healing of surgical wounds. If there’s time (since surgery for appendicitis usually is done on an emergency basis, there may not be), make a tape of healing statements to be played while you’re under anesthesia. A study conducted at Beth Israel Hospital in New York showed that patients who heard taped positive affirmations while they were under anesthesia required 50 percent less postoperative medication than a control group. After surgery, you may be able enhance the healing process with healing touch therapy such as Therapeutic Touch and Reiki, two forms of energy medicine.

Share Dr. Weil's expertise with your friends & family