General surgery covers most surgical procedures that affect the digestive system and the abdominal organs. One common general surgical procedure is an appendectomy. In this surgery, the appendix is removed, usually because a patient has developed appendicitis and surgical removal is necessary to prevent complications. 

The appendix is often not well understood, and many people may not know much about appendicitis or the surgery needed to help restore a patient to full health. Learn more about the appendix, what happens during appendicitis, and how an appendectomy is performed. 

Appendixes

The appendix is a curious formation that resides as part of the large intestine. Decades of medical thought dismissed this sac-like structure as something that was generally useless, as the appendix appeared to have no function whatsoever.

The appendix was beneath notice at the best of times, and troublesome or even deadly at the worst of times. Because the appendix had the reputation of causing problems, surgeons would remove it on principle if they were already performing abdominal surgery. 

However, more modern research shows that the appendix does, in fact, have some functional use to the human body. Researchers have discovered that the appendix helps to support the body’s immune system during fetal development, and continues to do so during the earlier years of life. 

White blood cells and other antibodies and antigens can reside in the appendix to help reduce the chance of harmful immune responses in the gut.

Also, advances in medicine and general surgery have found uses for an intact appendix. For example, the appendix can be used for urinary tract reconstruction when a weak or damaged sphincter causes incontinence. 

As research continues, the appendix gains more and more respect. This organ is no longer routinely removed during bowel surgery unless an appendectomy is necessary. 

Appendicitis

Despite the findings that the appendix could be a key player in the body’s immune system, this little part of your digestive tract has an unfortunate reputation for a reason. The sac-like structure hangs off the large intestine, and the appendix can swell when you have any sort of illness. This swelling reduces flow in and out of the appendix.

When the appendix is blocked by inflammation or by bowel contents, bacteria become trapped. The appendix will start to swell further, and an abscess can form as the tissue becomes infected. Left untreated, the appendix can perforate or the abscess can burst, spreading infectious material through the abdomen. 

Perforation of the appendix is a medical emergency and requires immediate surgical attention. Ideally, however, appendicitis will be caught before it gets to this dangerous point. Removing the appendix is much easier if it is still intact, and the surgery can be less invasive as a result. 

Appendectomy Procedures

Two types of appendectomy approaches exist, and each has their benefits. An open appendectomy cuts a large opening in the abdomen to allow immediate access to the infected tissue.

A laparoscopic appendectomy uses a series of tiny incisions to enter the abdomen and remove the appendix with the assistance of a small camera to give the surgeon a view of the affected area. 

Laparoscopic procedures are beneficial because they are much less invasive. The healing time is faster, and the patient won’t experience as much post-surgical discomfort. These procedures are more delicate and they can take longer.

And open appendectomy requires longer healing time, but this approach can be necessary when swift removal is paramount to the patient’s safety. If the appendix has already perforated, an open procedure may be the best approach in order to ensure that the abdominal area is cleared. 

Sometimes, your appendix surgery can be delayed. If you already have an infection because your appendix has burst, you might not be able to have surgery yet. Your doctor might want you to complete a course of powerful antibiotics before getting any surgery, especially if surgery has a reduced chance of success because of severe internal infection. 

Recovery

Fortunately, recovering from appendicitis is not intensive, especially if you did not have to worry about perforation. With a simple laparoscopic surgery, you may only need one or two days of recovery under direct medical supervision before heading home. You will need more rest at home, and you shouldn’t do any heavy lifting.

The recovery from a burst appendix is more intensive, depending on how much the infection spread. You might need to remain in the hospital for several days. You might not be able to eat or drink without the assistance of an IV. After your release, you might still need to follow specific dietary restrictions, and you’ll need to watch for infection or pain at the incision site.

Your appendix is an interesting addition to your digestive system. For more information about appendectomy and other general surgery, contact us at The Surgical Clinic.