Appendicitis animation

Appendicitis is a swelling of the appendix, which causes pain in the abdomen. Watch this animation to learn about the causes and treatment of appendicitis.

Media last reviewed: 14/11/2013

Next review due: 14/11/2015

What is the appendix?

The appendix is a small, thin pouch about 5 to 10cm long (2 to 4 inches). It's connected to the large intestine, where faeces (stools) are formed.

No one knows exactly why we have an appendix. Removing it is not harmful.

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Appendicitis is a painful swelling of the appendix, a finger-like pouch connected to the large intestine.

Appendicitis typically starts with a pain in the middle of your abdomen (tummy) that may come and go. Within hours the pain travels to the lower right-hand side, where the appendix usually lies, and becomes constant and severe.

Pressing on this area, coughing or walking, may all make the pain worse. You may lose your appetite, feel sick and occasionally experience diarrhoea.

Read more about the symptoms of appendicitis.

When to get medical help

If you're experiencing abdominal pain that's gradually getting worse, contact your GP or local out-of-hours service immediately. If these options aren't available, call NHS 111 for advice.

You should call 999 for an ambulance if you have pain that suddenly becomes and continues to get worse and spreads across your abdomen. These are signs that your appendix may have burst, which can lead to potentially life-threatening complications.

Read more about diagnosing appendicitis and the complications of appendicitis.

How appendicitis is treated

In most cases of appendicitis, the appendix will need to be surgically removed as soon as possible. Removal of the appendix, known as an appendectomy or appendicectomy, is one of the most common operations in the UK and its success rate is excellent.

The operation is most commonly performed as 'keyhole' surgery (laparoscopy), which involves making several small cuts in your abdomen, through which special surgical instruments are inserted. 'Open' surgery, where a single larger cut is made in the abdomen, is usually carried out if the appendix has burst or access is more difficult.

Most people make a full recovery from an appendectomy in a couple of weeks, although strenuous activities may need to be avoided for up to six weeks after open surgery. 

Read more about treating appendicitis.

What causes appendicitis?

It's not exactly clear what the causes of appendicitis are, although most cases are thought to occur when something, usually a small piece of faeces (stool) or a swollen lymph node within the wall of the bowel (often following an upper respiratory tract infection), blocks the entrance of the appendix.

This obstruction leads to the development of inflammation and swelling. The pressure caused by the swelling can then lead to the appendix bursting.

As the causes are not fully understood, there's no guaranteed way of preventing appendicitis.

Who is affected

Appendicitis is a common condition. Around 40,000 people are admitted to hospital with appendicitis each year in England and it's estimated that around one in every 13 people will develop it at some point in their life.

Appendicitis can develop at any age, but it is most common in young people from 10 to 20 years old.

Page last reviewed: 11/02/2014

Next review due: 11/02/2016


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The 16 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Shazz1029 said on 01 May 2014

I had my appendix out a few weeks ago, and had keyhole surgery. But the surgery was done on my left and I'm still expierncing pains. My hips are hurting but it can't be the had, ideas anyone?

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joanne86 said on 09 February 2014

A family member had appendix removed 10 days ago the next day after being very ill and in pain the awful hospital that needed beds sent him home next day back in very poorly had a scan and sent him home tge folowing day the next day got worse back in on drips cant eat on a feeding tube and a tube emptying his tummy another ct scan and showed his appendix had errupted!! The hospital has taken 10 whole days to realise this and hes very poorly they have neglected him and this is disgusting.

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MTgirl said on 05 January 2014

Its been interesting reading up on this. Last night I started getting abdominal cramps in my lower right side it was constant and sometimes severe. This morning I still have the pains, I feel sick and lost my appetite however I can still walk around and if I press my right side it doesn't hurt. I don't know what to do?

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Kristinarose said on 19 November 2013

I started with pain in my right side just below my tummy button at 8pm on Wednesday, it came on suddenly and was about a 6/7 out of 10 on the pain score. The pain continued and I started to feel sick i saw the dr on Friday morning and she said she thought it was my appendix and sent me to hospital. I saw a dr in A and E straight away and had bloods taken and was given IV paracetamol and fluids as I was now nil by mouth. The bloods came back normal but the Drs weren't happy with where the pain was and gave me a scan straight away they checked for ovarian cysts as apparently the pain is similar to appendicitis but I didn't have any they then tried to find my appendix which they said can be difficult, once they located my appendix they said it was swollen with fluid and too long. I was then put onto a ward and saw a surgeon who said it would be removed ASAP. I had surgery at 8:30 am on the Saturday via keyhole and was home on the Monday night. I had amazing care, my appendix was in a slightly higher place than normal and closer to my tummy button than my groin. I have had gallstones before which is excruciating but appendix pain was no where near! Please make sure you see a dr and get this treated ASAP. I will be off work for 2 weeks and can't drive but I am starting to feel better already just 3 days post op! In some discomfort but I think most of it is from the gas they use when doing keyhole surgery . I am a 28 yr old female.

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Spitfire1962 said on 18 October 2013

My condition started a couple of weeks ago. I had been suffering from a change in bowel habits for a few weeks and had a little discomfort in the lower bowel. I had been to see my GP (locum) as I had previously been diagnosed with bowel cancer back in 2011. She failed to examine me, but referred me back to the hospital (well at least I think thats what she did, as she hardly said a word to me). That was on the Monday. The following Saturday, I commented to my wife how I was feeling well, for the first time in weeks. Then later that afternoon the pain started in the lower abdomen. That night it got worse and I started to vomit. I could not even keep water down. By the Sunday, I was cold a shivering and spent the day in bed. My wife said I should go to hospital, but I insisted there was nothing wrong. The same Monday, and the by Tuesday she dragged me to hospital. I was green and totally dehydrated. The hospital took me in straight away, diagnosed a burst appendix, after having a CT scan and arranged an emergency operation for me. I have to say, I received excellent treatment whilst in A&E and on the ward. They opened up my original operation scar, from my bowel resection, so no new scar. Lesson learnt, not to be so bloody minded and go to hospital when I'm told.

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DutchSnappy said on 05 June 2013

I started with a pain in right side on 6th April. Several visits to GP ruled out urine infection or appendicitis because my blood tests were clear. Had an ultrasound scan which ruled out kidney stones and ovarian cysts. Had a CT scan with contrast which showed liquid on the ileum which is apparently inflamed appendix. Great I though, at least I can have it taken out and eventually be pain free. Not to be. Surgery is not necessary in this modern age, instead antibiotics are used. I have just completed my 5th course of antibiotics (made me feel horrendous on top of usual pain), but none have made any difference. I am now going for a colonoscopy on Monday so they can look at my inflamed appendix. Why can't they just take it out? I thought you were supposed to hurry before it ruptures and kills you! Feeling sore, fed up and slightly worried.

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popzmum said on 08 February 2013

Thank You everyone for giving me a bit of 'piece of mind'. my daughter is in hospital now, has been for 4 days and they just keep giving her anti sickness and pain killers, mainly morphine! but she keeps telling them, that it doesn't take the pain away! she had ultra sound, thats clear, she had CT 2days ago, still waiting for results! its worse at night, I've just left(02.45). after receiving a "help me" text from her! they want to send her home tomorrow but reading all of your experiences, I'm gonna fight this Fingers crossed and thanks again X

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kmcgiveron said on 27 January 2013

i stared having pain on christmas eve , it stared in the middle of my abdomin but in days its moved more to the right i was constantly bein sick i went to my gp who reffered me to the hosp ended up bein on a drip but got fobed off with pain killeres was in even more pain pain by the weekend so went to a different hosp spent the weekend there had a ultra sound but coz of my bloods were normal they didnt do nuffing , so went back to the gps as this pain was unbearable by now and they sent me back to the hospital and this was nearly 2weeks after the painstarted they addmitted me to the surgical ward on a drip my bloods were still normal but the next day i had surgery to have a look inside they removed my appendix on 6/01/13 they discharged me the next day eventhou i was very sore and still ill , i went to my partners house and by the next morning could hardly move couldnt lie down so the gp came to see me i had a very high temp , the gp said to go to the hospital asap, by the time i got there i felt paraylzed couldnt even move my fingers , my blood showed infection and i had blood poisoning and was rushed into surgery this time it was open surgery not key hole , where they had removed my appendix where they stitched the gap in my bowl the stitches had came away and everything in my intestine infected my blood i had part of my bowl removed and had my inides cleared out after that spent 9 days in hospital due to infection they said i was lucky to even be here and i was lucky not to get septicemia i finally got out on 19/01/13

if anyone goes throu this pain and bloods are normal dont get fobbed off as it can be fatal and if you have been discharged after a operation dont be scared of going back because if i didnt go back i would have died through the night im only 19 and this was not the start of the year i wanted

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ESR said on 09 October 2012

I had my appendix removed on the 1st oct 2012.

I started getting pains in my tummy on the 29th sep, tea time. they were like cramps and shooting pains on and off. I was still having pains all day sunday the 30th, they started getting worse as the night got on I took pain killers and they didnt do anything. 11:30pm on the 30th sep I got myself to hospital to be told it looked like my appendix.

The next morning 1st oct 2012, I had it removed and was also told that it was lucky I got in when I did as it was that bad it could have burst. I was in hospital for a week due to some infected fluid being left behind I was very ill for 5day before I could go home.
My advice if the pain killers do not do anything, get yourself to hospital before it goes too far!

Take care.

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LittleGlitter said on 27 September 2012

In June I started with pain, nausea and malaise. I went to bed to attempt to sleep it off and was awake again with in hours continually vomiting. I dialled NHS Direct who said it sounded like a GI bug, I tried to remain hydrated to no avail. By 4pm I was dehydrated, fed up and in agony. I phoned my out of hours service who sent an ambulance straight away. In hospital I was given pain relief, anti-sickness & fluids and kept in overnight, by the morning I was fine and was discharged.

Six weeks later whilst out at the cinema I started with indigestion which quickly progressed to the same feeling as before. By the time I got home I could hardly stand up. Attempting to use the toilet for either elimination was uncomfortable & impossible. The tearing pain on my right side was growing in intensity. However having been told it was more than likely a GI bug last time, I was reluctant to phone 999 and waste resources again. I visited my GP in the morning who sent me straight to hospital. Low & behold I had appendicitis, and a very nasty case of it caused by the GI bug I'd had before & obviously not gotten rid of. It was so bad that they'd had to resort to open surgery as opposed to the preferred laprascopic.

The hospital were brilliant. Although I had to wait awhile for my surgery I was made completely comfortable and felt very safe. There was continuity in my care and the staff dealt with me wonderfully. I couldn't thank them more.

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neil2k50 said on 16 February 2012

I need to say sorry with my last comment. I have not been in hospital before and I never knew what goes on behind the scenes. I was moaning that nothing was being done....well by Wednesday evening my appendix was out and here I am Thursday feeling good and waiting to go home tomorrow. I also now understand how hard nursing staff work, they never stop. And even when they have difficult patients they remain calm and professional. Believe it or not there were much more difficult patients than me. I think I was in so much pain I was feeling sorry for myself.

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neil2k50 said on 15 February 2012

I had very bad, I mean very bad, pains Monday morning. I called my GP at 8.00 and within 10 minutes I was in an ambulance on my way to hospital. Trouble is when I got here time has stood still and they have done very little for 2 days. Im told they are waiting to see if it gets better by itself???? I have had some x rays and they say I will have a scan tomorrow (sometime) and they will then decide what to do. I am in agony. I was in agony when I was blue'd and two'd here on Monday and here we are Wednesday and nothing has happened apart from popping me an anti sickness pill and some pain killers. It seams to me they are faffing about and will remove the appendix eventually so why not do it now?

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aerialmeg said on 19 November 2011

Thank you for providing such clear information. After checking my symptoms, I attended an out of hours doctor's surgery where I was immediately admitted to hospital with suspected appendicitis. By 6pm the next day I had had open surgery and two days later was released.
Initially, I felt that surgery was a drastic measure when there was no confirmation that it was appendicitis, but don't delay if you have any of the symptoms - if the appendix bursts, the chances of sepsis and peritonitis are dramatically increased, and the recovery time is significantly longer. After my twenty minute surgery I felt vindicated to find that I did have appendicitis - at least I never will again.
From self-diagnosis via NHS Direct all the way through to surgery, the NHS staff were extraordinary, and I can't thank them enough.

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tykeontour said on 14 October 2011

I've just had my appendix removed this week. I'd had three previous episodes of pain associated with appendicitis 3 times over the last 6 months. This time I was finally able to make it to my GP during an 'episode'. He immediately sent me up to my local hospital and got me a bed sorted. I had the operation to remove the appendix later the same day. I would say make sure you get to your GP/local hosp as soon as possible when experiencing pain. I'd previously had an ultrasound and a CT scan following these episodes which showed all was normal. However by getting to hospital in time another CT scan showed an inflamed appendix. Clearly some conditions only show up on tests if done at the exact right time not the next day or day after. Men tend to delay going to the GP, for someting like this don't delay!!! Don't underestimate the condition.

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george roberts2 said on 21 January 2011

My concerns for my partner who seems to have this condition, alarmingly, suddenly, are somewhat eased by reading the facts. thanks. George.

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baochau105 said on 30 March 2010

how can i download this video

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