The Nation's Health + What is the appendix?

Health Tips: What is the appendix?
Health tips

The appendix is a fingerlike pouch attached to the large intestine and located in the lower right area of the abdomen. Scientists are not sure what the appendix does, if anything, but removing it does not appear to affect a person’s health. The inside of the appendix is called the appendiceal lumen. Mucus created by the appendix travels through the appendiceal lumen and empties into the large intestine.

Drawing of the gastrointestinal tract with the liver, stomach, large intestine, small intestine, appendix, and anus labeled. The appendix is a fingerlike pouch attached to the large intestine in the lower right area of the abdomen.

What causes appendicitis?

Obstruction of the appendiceal lumen causes appendicitis. Mucus backs up in the appendiceal lumen, causing bacteria that normally live inside the appendix to multiply. As a result, the appendix swells and becomes infected. Sources of obstruction include

* feces, parasites, or growths that clog the appendiceal lumen * enlarged lymph tissue in the wall of the appendix, caused by infection in the gastrointestinal tract or elsewhere in the body * inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis * trauma to the abdomen

An inflamed appendix will likely burst if not removed. Bursting spreads infection throughout the abdomen—a potentially dangerous condition called peritonitis.

Who gets appendicitis?

Anyone can get appendicitis, but it is more common among people 10 to 30 years old. Appendicitis leads to more emergency abdominal surgeries than any other cause.

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