Spotting the warning signs of appendicitis could save your life. (It happened to me).
Norah O’Donnell is on the mend after having an emergency appendectomy when she developed appendicitis on vacation. The CBS This Morning co-anchor revealed that she was having the procedure done on Instagram Stories, adding that it was “not what we had planned for spring break.”
O’Donnell’s husband, Geoff Tracy, said that she had a “laparoscopic appendectomy,” and is “stronger than steel.”
In a later tweet, Tracy also said that O’Donnell is “doing great.” According to People, she had the surgery before her appendix ruptured—here’s why that was a lucky catch.
What is appendicitis and why does it happen?
Appendicitis is inflammation of your appendix, a tube-shaped sac attached to the lower end of your large intestine. It’s the most common cause of acute abdominal pain that requires surgery in the U.S., according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), and more than five percent of the population will have appendicitis at some point.
The ailment is most common in people’s teens and 20s, but it can happen at any age, the NIDDK says. As for what causes it? Experts don’t really know. “It’s simply due to bad luck,” says David Renton, MD, a general and gastrointestinal surgeon at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
What they do know: Appendicitis is caused by a blockage in the lining of the appendix that causes an infection, per the Mayo Clinic. Bacteria then grow quickly, causing the appendix to become inflamed and filled with pus. And, if it’s not treated, the appendix can burst, which can possibly be life-threatening if not treated immediately.
What are the signs of appendicitis?
There are a few things to look out for with this. Dr. Renton says that the classic symptoms are pain that starts around your belly button, around the same time that you don’t feel like eating anything. You also may have bloating, nausea, vomiting, constipation or diarrhea, and a fever. That pain then slowly migrates to the lower right quadrant of your abdomen, where it persists.
“It doesn’t get better,” Dr. Renton says. The pain also might get worse when you cough, walk, or do any other kind of jarring movements.
If the pain does start to feel better, it could be a sign that your appendix has burst, Dr. Renton says—but then you’d likely feel really sick in general.
What is an appendectomy, exactly?
An appendectomy is a procedure that removes the appendix. It’s often done laparoscopically (meaning, a surgeon makes a few incisions in your abdomen, inserts special surgical tools and a video camera into your abdomen, and uses them to take out your appendix). “It’s pretty simple,” Dr. Renton says, noting that it takes about 30 minutes to do.
Afterward, your doctor will generally recommend that you avoid heavy lifting for about four weeks. “Other than that, most people are back to normal in a couple of days,” Dr. Renton says.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to lower the odds you’ll develop appendicitis, Dr. Renton says. “There’s nothing you can take and no way to prevent it,” he says. “If you have an appendix, you have a risk of developing appendicitis.”
However, if you suspect that you have appendicitis or you’re having unexplained abdominal pain, it’s best to get it checked out ASAP, just in case, Dr. Renton says. “Listen to your body,” he says. “It’s much easier to take care of early appendicitis than late, ruptured appendicitis.”