Megan Freedman

What is an appendectomy?

An appendectomy is a surgery to remove the appendix. The appendix is a three to six-inch long pouch-like structure in the lower right area of the abdomen. It is attached to your intestines.  Appendicitis occurs when the appendix becomes infected or inflamed. Appendicitis can cause severe abdominal pain and infection. An appendectomy cures appendicitis and eliminates its symptoms. 

The function of the appendix is not entirely clear. It contains lymphoid tissue and may help the body fight infection. Other organs take over the infection-fighting work of the appendix after it is removed. You will have the same level of immunity as you did when you had an appendix.

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An appendectomy can be a life-saving surgery, but it has risks and potential complications. You may require other treatments before surgery if your appendix has burst (ruptured). This includes antibiotics and placing a tube through your abdomen to drain pus from around the ruptured appendix. 

Why is an appendectomy performed? 

The appendix extends out from the large intestine (the colon). The appendix can trap food, stool or ingested objects due to its location. This causes irritation, inflammation, rapid growth of bacteria, and infection (appendicitis). Removal of the appendix is the cure for appendicitis. 

An inflamed or infected appendix may rupture if it is not removed. This can result in a collection of pus (abscess) around the appendix. Infection can also spread throughout the abdomen. This is a life-threatening condition called peritonitis. An appendectomy is often needed on an emergency basis without much warning to prevent to treat peritonitis.

Who performs an appendectomy?

A general surgeon or pediatric (children's) surgeon performs appendectomy surgery. A general surgeon specializes in the surgical care of diseases, injuries and deformities affecting the abdomen, breasts, digestive tract, endocrine system and skin. A pediatric surgeon is a general surgeon with extra training in performing surgery on infants, children and adolescents. 

How is an appendectomy performed?

Your appendectomy will be performed in a hospital. Your surgeon makes a large incision (open surgery) or several smaller incisions (minimally invasive surgery) in your abdomen. Your surgeon cuts out the appendix and ties off blood vessels. The abdomen is cleaned out if the appendix is ruptured, and a drain may be placed to remove fluid remaining in the abdomen. It is usually removed before you leave the hospital.

Surgical approaches to appendectomy

Your surgeon will perform an appendectomy using one of the following approaches:

  • Minimally invasive surgery involves inserting special instruments and a laparoscope through small incisions in the abdomen. The laparoscope is a thin, lighted instrument with a small camera that sends pictures of the inside of your body to a video screen. Your surgeon sees the inside of your abdomen on the screen while performing the surgery. Minimally invasive surgery generally involves a faster recovery and less pain than open surgery. This is because it causes less trauma to tissues and organs. Your surgeon makes several small incisions instead of a larger one used in open surgery. Your surgeon threads surgical tools around structures, such as muscle, instead of cutting through or displacing them as in open surgery.

  • Open surgery involves making a large incision in the abdomen. Open surgery allows your surgeon to view and access the surgical area directly. Open surgery generally involves a longer recovery and more pain than minimally invasive surgery. This is because it causes more trauma to tissues. Open surgery requires a larger incision and more cutting and displacement of muscle and other tissues than minimally invasive surgery. Despite this, open surgery may be a safer or more effective method for certain patients.

Your surgeon may decide after beginning a minimally invasive procedure that you need open surgery to complete your surgery. This may occur if you have severe bleeding or your surgeon finds a serious infection, abscess, or a ruptured appendix. 
Your surgeon will advise you on which procedure is best for you and how long you need to stay in the hospital based on your diagnosis, age, medical history, general health, and possibly your personal preference. Learn ab