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Appendicitis (ap-pen-di-SY-tis) is the inflammation of the appendix (ap-PEN-dix), which is a small organ that branches off the large intestine. The inflammation usually begins abruptly, causes a characteristic rightsided abdominal pain, and may lead to rupture or bursting of the appendix and to severe illness.

What Is Appendicitis?

Acute* appendicitis occurs when the vermiform (VER-mi-form) appendix becomes infected with bacteria. Vermiform means shaped like a worm. The appendix is a narrow, finger-shaped tube, usually 3 to 6 inches long, that branches off the large intestine into the lower right side of the abdomen. Inflammation is the body’s response to this infection. Once the appendix becomes inflamed, it must be removed so that it does not break, or rupture, and spread the infection to the rest of the abdomen, a condition known as peritonitis*. The appendix has no known function, and its removal has no adverse effect on the body.

Who Gets Appendicitis?

Each year, appendicitis affects 1 in 500 people. Anyone can develop appendicitis, but it is most common in young people between 15 and 24 years old, and it affects boys more often than girls. Appendicitis is not preventable. Surgical removal of the appendix, appendectomy (ap-pen-DEK-to-mee), is a common reason for abdominal surgery in children. People can die from appendicitis if it is left untreated, but this is rare.

*acute means rapid in onset, and short-lasting. Conditions that continue for a long period of time are called “chronic.”

*peritonitis (per-i-to-NI-tis) is inflammation of the peritoneum (per-i-to-NE-um), which is the membrane that lines the abdominal cavity.

What Happens to People with Appendicitis?

David’s appendicitis happened suddenly, when he awoke at 1:00 am with a terrible bellyache. He blamed it on the chips and ice cream he had eaten after dinner and tried to go back to sleep. By 7:00 am, his bellyache was worse, he was not hungry, and he felt very hot. He told his parents about the intense pain in his right side, and they took him to see the doctor immediately. A series of events followed rapidly.


The U.S. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse posts a fact sheet about appendicitis at its website.

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