For an organ that has no known purpose, the appendix sure causes its share of problems. Approximately 300,000 appendectomies are performed each year. In fact, it’s the most common emergency surgery in the United States. Appendicitis symptoms must be taken seriously. Both children and adults require emergency medical attention immediately.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, appendicitis is the most common reason for abdominal surgery in children. In fact, four out of every 1,000 children under the age of 14 will require an appendectomy. Every year in the United States, 1 person out of every 500 will have appendicitis and need immediate medical care. Fortunately, we can safely live and thrive without an appendix. (1, 2)
What Is Appendicitis?
Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix, which can cause it to rupture. The appendix is a small, finger-shaped organ located where the large intestine and small intestine join in the lower right quadrant of the abdomen, not far from the right hip bone. When the appendix becomes inflamed, and appendicitis symptoms including sudden pain begin, they often start in the lower right abdomen, or near the navel. The pain then migrates to the lower right side. As the inflammation worsens, the pain becomes more severe. (3)
While a blunt force trauma, like a car accident or sporting accident, can cause the appendix to rupture, an obstruction in the appendix may also be the culprit. When the appendix is obstructed, bacteria inside the appendix multiply quickly. This causes an abscess and the formation of pus. (4) If the appendix ruptures, the pus and bacteria spread through the abdomen and into the bloodstream. This is why emergency medical attention is necessary whenever the symptoms of appendicitis appear.
Early appendicitis symptoms may be misunderstood as indigestion or gas because mild cramping is common at the beginning. If this feeling lasts for more than 24 hours, and other appendicitis symptoms on the list below begin to appear, it is time to seek medical attention. The most common symptoms of appendicitis in children and adults include:
- Sudden pain that begins at the belly button and shifts to lower right abdomen
- Sudden pain that starts on the lower right side of the abdomen
- Loss of appetite
- Low-grade fever of around 100 degrees that increases as inflammation and pain increase
- Abdominal bloating
- Inability to pass gas
- Right side of the abdomen is tender to the touch
If you are pregnant, appendicitis symptoms may start with pain in the upper abdomen as the appendix shifts slightly higher during pregnancy. Appendicitis in pregnant women is not uncommon; in fact, appendicitis occurs in 1 in 1,500 pregnancies. If you are pregnant and experience any of the symptoms, don’t brush them off as early labor or pregnancy related discomfort. Early intervention is key to a healthy pregnancy. (5, 6)
Recognizing appendicitis symptoms in young children is more difficult.
Appendicitis symptoms in young children may include:
- Elevated heart rate
- Frequent urination
- Complaints of stomach pains after moving around, sneezing, coughing or touching their abdomens
If these symptoms appear with an elevated temperature, seek emergency medical attention immediately. (7)
Causes & Risk Factors
While researchers are not sure why appendicitis occurs in some people rather than others, infection, inflammation or obstruction in the appendix or digestive tract seems to be the most common cause. A blockage in the lining of the appendix can cause bacteria to multiply, quickly causing the appendix to become inflamed, swollen and pus-filled. If the appendix bursts, the infection can spread through the abdominal cavity and into the bloodstream. (8)
Recognized risk factors for appendicitis include:
- Age: It most often occurs between the ages of 10 and 30
- Sex: More common in males than females
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Infection in the gastrointestinal tract or elsewhere in the body
- Blunt force trauma to abdomen sustained in a car accident, sporting accident, or fall
Appendicitis is a serious medical condition that requires emergency medical care. To determine the best course of action, the physician will conduct a physical examination, order blood and urine tests, and often imaging tests like a CT, MRI, or abdominal ultrasound to further understand the condition and appendicitis symptoms you are experiencing. A full medical history will be taken. Also, the medical team will likely ask about digestive symptoms including recent bowel movements. (9)
If the appendix hasn’t ruptured, antibiotics will be administered. In addition, 12- to 24-hour monitoring in the hospital may be necessary. But, if the appendix bursts, it will be surgically removed. Most appendectomies today are performed as a laparoscopic procedure, which allows for less pain and scarring and facilitates quicker healing. However, if the appendix has burst and infection is leaking into the abdominal cavity, laparoscopic surgery may not be appropriate.
When the appendix bursts and leaks bacteria and pus into the abdomen, the surgery is more involved as the surgeon must clean the bacteria and pus from the abdomen. After surgery, a tube will remain for a couple of weeks to allow the abscess to continue to drain. Antibiotics will be prescribed to rid the body of the infection. After an appendectomy, most patients are released within a couple of days. (10)
Currently, there is a clinical trial underway by the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA to determine whether treating appendicitis (prior to rupture) on an outpatient basis with just antibiotics is safe and effective. Initial results are promising. Researchers anticipate final results in 2021. (11)
16 Natural Ways to Boost Appendicitis Recovery
1. Follow your surgeon’s recommendations for activity, medications and wound care.
Generally, after laparoscopic surgery, you will need to limit activity for three to five days. For an open appendectomy, you must limit activity for 10 to 14 days. Move around slowly and deliberately; avoid carrying or picking up heavy objects. The incision site needs to stay clean and dry.
2. Practice guided imagery.
According to the Mayo Clinic, after an appendectomy, guided imagery may help to control pain. (12) This can be particularly helpful for children who may experience anxiety, as well as pain, after surgery. Guided meditation is known to relieve anxiety, reduce pain, improve sleep quality and so much more.
3. Cough carefully.
After an appendectomy, coughing is painful. To prevent some of the pain, apply pressure to your abdomen before you cough. Roll a towel or use a pillow, place it against your abdomen and exert a moderate amount of pressure on it before a cough or sneeze to prevent pain.
An appendectomy is a traumatic physical event, and it takes time to recover. Getting plenty of rest and relaxation after surgery will help you feel better and heal more quickly. To stimulate relaxation, reduce pain, and for better sleep, practice aromatherapy. Research shows that aromatherapy using lavender essential oil reduces mental stress and anxiety. (13) After a trauma of this nature, children are particularly susceptible to fear and anxiety. Diffusing essential oils can help to relieve these emotions.
For pain, there are a broad range of studies that show aromatherapy aids in the reduction of pain and may have a long-term effect on pain reduction for burn patients, rheumatoid arthritis, during labor, and for those living with chronic pain. A couple of these studies specifically identified lavender essential oil or a combination of rose and lavender oils, while other studies didn’t specify the essential oil tested. (14, 15, 16, 17, 18)
5. Homeopathic arnica 6x.
Known for its anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties, arnica may also decrease swelling after the surgery. Use as directed for two weeks following surgery.
6. Support healthy liver function.
After appendicitis, supporting liver function is essential. Anesthetics used during surgery can cause a decrease in liver function, allowing toxic substances to build up. In the weeks after an appendectomy, avoid consuming too much caffeine and alcohol, as well as conventionally farmed fruits, vegetables and meats. Focus on fresh, organic produce, grass-fed organic meat, and wild-caught fish like salmon.
7. Boost immune system health.
Avoiding an infection after an appendectomy, particularly if the appendix ruptured and leaked bacteria and pus into the abdominal cavity, is a must. The best way to guard against infection is to ensure your immune system is performing optimally. Practice the best tips to boost your immune system including adding high-quality supplements like ginger, ginseng, vitamin D, and others to your healing plan.
The appendix is a part of the digestive tract, so you may experience some new gastrointestinal symptoms as you heal. Rely on a healthy diet and avoid any processed foods and any foods that you are sensitive to, including gluten and conventional dairy. Eat small, nutrient-dense meals in the weeks following surgery, and enjoy my favorite gut-healing smoothie recipe, sure to please kids and adults alike.
In a small study conducted by researchers at the University of Texas’s Advanced Wound Healing and Tissue Regeneration Laboratory, a supplement containing vitamin C, grape seed extract, rutin and bromelain supported faster healing, and participants experienced less redness and swelling. (19)
Bromelain, an enzyme found in pineapple, demonstrates incredible proven health and therapeutic benefits including helping to prevent cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. (20) After surgery, take 1,000 milligrams of a high-quality bromelain supplement three times each day to spur healing.
9. Vitamin C.
Vitamin C helps the body to metabolize anesthetics used during surgery and may help to speed healing, according to researchers from Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center. Dr. Michael A. Fiorillow, MD, a leading plastic surgeon, recommends 2,000 milligrams a day of a high-quality vitamin C supplement to anyone with an open wound as it helps the wound heal faster. (21)
In addition, make a point to consume organic vitamin C-rich foods like guava, oranges, red or green peppers and papaya. Vitamin C boosts the immune system and helps to improve mineral absorption, which is key when recovering from surgery.
10. Vitamin A.
If you have Crohn’s disease, are a vegan, have problems with your pancreas, or have cystic fibrosis, you may be deficient in vitamin A. Vitamin A deficiency can make you more susceptible to developing an infection, which can be incredibly dangerous after surgery and trauma. (22)
The recommended daily allowance for vitamin A is as follows:
- 1–3 years old: 300 micrograms/day
- 4–8 years old: 400micrograms/day
- 9–13 years old: 600micrograms/day
- 14 years old and up: 700 micrograms/day
- When pregnant: 750–770 micrograms/day
- When breastfeeding: 1,200–1,300 micrograms/day
- 14 years old and up: 900 micrograms/day
Also, add plenty of vitamin A-rich foods like wild-caught tuna, carrots, sweet potatoes and leafy greens to your diet to help boost immune system function when recovering from appendicitis.
Even a mild zinc deficiency can interfere with healing. According to Boston University School of Medicine, an increased consumption of vitamin A, vitamin E and zinc may influence wound healing rates. (23) Enjoy zinc-rich foods during your healing like grass-fed beef and lamb, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas and even cocoa powder.
12. Arginine & omega-3.
A study conducted by Shriners Hospitals for Children and University of Cincinnati Medical Center found that the combination of arginine and omega-3 fatty acids reduced surgical site infections by 50 percent, significantly reducing hospital and ICU stays. (24)
In the study, 10 grams of arginine were given, along with a customized dose of omega-3, based on 3.5 percent of energy for each patient. As a precaution, arginine should not be given if the patient is septic, or for those who have high blood pressure.
An essential amino acid, glutamine supports gastrointestinal health. Also, research shows that it reduces the risk of infection after surgery or injury, according to researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School. (25) During recovery, take between 2 and 5 grams of glutamine twice a day, along with a high-quality vitamin B12 supplement for best results.
The anesthetics from the surgery and the antibiotics harm the gut’s natural healthy bacterial balance. To rebuild the healthy bacteria, take a high-quality probiotic supplement that provides at least 50 billion CFU per serving. In addition, add probiotic-rich foods to your diet in the following weeks, including kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut and apple cider vinegar.
15. Coconut Oil.
To prevent significant scarring, once the stitches or the staples have been removed, gently massage coconut oil around the scar. It will help to nourish the skin and help to thwart any lingering fungi, bacteria or viruses lurking on the skin.
16. Enjoy a healthy, clean diet.
The appendix is part of the digestive system, so during recovery, a healthy, clean diet is essential. Dr. Elson M. Haas, MD, founder and director of Preventive Medical Center of Marin in San Rafael, California says that a diet after surgery should be light, not greasy, and easy to digest. Focus on nutrient-dense protein powders, bone broth and organic foods. (26)
If the appendix ruptures, the infection and bacteria can spread throughout the abdomen causing peritonitis; this can be life-threatening. Take appendicitis symptoms seriously and seek medical intervention quickly.
After an appendectomy, seek medical attention if you experience fever, chills, bleeding or drainage from the incision site, vomiting, loss of appetite, coughing, shortness of breath, cramping, no bowel movement for two days or longer, or diarrhea for three or more days. (27)
- The appendix is part of the digestive system, and IBS, parasites and gastrointestinal infections are risk factors for appendicitis.
- Appendicitis is a medical emergency.
- If not treated promptly and appropriately, the appendix can rupture.
- An appendectomy is the most common emergency surgery in the United States with over 300,000 performed each year.
- Appendicitis symptoms in children are harder to identify and may be misread as gas or digestive distress.
- Women who are pregnant experience appendicitis symptoms differently; the pain is higher in the abdomen due to the pregnancy. Take symptoms seriously during pregnancy, particularly when accompanied by a low-grade fever.
- Pain may begin around the belly button, or on the lower right side of the abdomen near the right hip bone.
- Antibiotics are often prescribed to kill the bacteria in the appendix.
- If the appendix has not ruptured, the surgery can typically be done laparoscopically.
- If the appendix has ruptured, a surgeon must perform an open appendectomy to remove the appendix and clean pus from the abdominal cavity.
- The appendix has no known purpose, and you can live a healthy, normal life without one.