A lot of us don’t have an appendix and seem to do just fine. So if we can survive without it what the point?
Let’s have a look at the appendix and work out why we had/have one in the first place.
The appendix is located in the lower right quadrant of abdomen, just near the right hip bone. It’s attached to the cecum which is a pouch-like structure of the colon at the junction between the small and large intestine. The appendix’s internal wall has a similar composition to the colon wall (large intestine)and due to it being tucked away, the appendix is mostly protected from the fecal stream passing through the colon.
Its finger shaped and usually around 9cm long and around 6mm in diameter. Any larger than 6mm may indicate infection.
Ok, so we know where it is, but what does it do? What’s is its function?
It’s often thought that the appendix is a remnant of our vegetarian ancestors.
New research indicates there may be more to the appendix than we thought.
The appendix may play a role in immune responses – it has a high level of lymphoid (lymphatic) tissue and may shelter symbiotic gut microbiota against the damage caused by gastrointestinal infections. This reservoir may help reseed the colon after the infection resolves.
The lymphoid tissue is responsible for production of immunoglobulins (like IgA) within the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT). IgA helps to neutralise bacteria and viruses in the gut.
So what can go wrong with the appendix?
- appendicitis = inflammation of the appendix. A blockage may be due to a fecal matter plug, kinking, a tumour(rare) or inflamed lymphoid tissue related to infection. Bacteria builds up within the appendix and it becomes infected. If the infection is left untreated it may lead to perforation, peritonitis and medical emergency. First pain symptoms may be near the umbilicus (belly button) and over next few hours moving down toward the bottom right side of the abdominal adjacent to hip bone. There may be lost of appetite, vomiting, nausea and of course pain. Symptoms may differ on an individual basis.
Some interesting facts about appendicitis:
- slightly more common in males.
- lifetime incidence risk 16.0% in South Korea and 1.8% in Africa – overall the worldwide lifetime risk is 7-8%.
- a family history of appendicitis increases risk of development appendicitis.
- appendectomy may increase the risk of inflammatory bowel disease.
- diagnosis is via clinical symptoms, ultrasound, blood tests (including white blood cell counts and C-reactive protein), CT scanning and if diagnosis is still equivocal, observation of clinical symptoms.
- non-surgical treatment (antibiotics) may be considered for uncomplicated infections (non-perforated), studies are underway looking at the risk of future appendicitis recurrence.
How can I look after my appendix?
If you have any pain or concerns about the health of your appendix please talk to your doctor.
A family history of appendicitis may increase the risk for other family members. Always discuss/inform your doctor regarding your family history of all health conditions, including appendicitis.
Healthy gut function is critical for overall good health. We all need to include the recommended servings of fruit and vegetables each day (at 2-3 for fruit and at least 5 for vegetables). A diet high in vegetables and fruit, legumes, nuts, seeds and wholegrain helps to keep our gut microbiota happy and healthy. While a healthy gut may not prevent appendicitis it may help prevent constipation and increase the different types of gut bacteria that contribute to good health.
If you would like to read more about the appendix and it’s functions have a look at the reference links below.
Note: These articles are not to be used to diagnose illness or health conditions, if you have any health concerns please talk to your doctor. I don’t have a Medical degree and I’m not a doctor. I’m sure all the doctors out there reading my blog will pick holes in my posts and that’s fine. I’m happy to be corrected where necessary.
- Acute appendicitis: modern understanding of pathogenesis, diagnosis, and management, https://www.uib.no/sites/w3.uib.no/files/attachments/acute_appendicitis_lancet.pdf
- Appendicectomy hospitalisations, https://safetyandquality.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/4.5-Appendicectomy.pdf
- Family History Is a Predictor for Appendicitis in Adults in the Emergency Department, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3555584/
- The immunological functions of the Appendix: An example of redundancy, Seminars in Immunology, journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/ysmim