Purpose, Preparation, Risks, and Recovery

Purpose, Preparation, Risks, and Recovery

An appendectomy (also known as appendix surgery) is the surgical removal of your appendix. The appendix is a small organ attached to your large intestine.

While the exact function of the appendix is not yet known, researchers believe that your appendix may play an important role in digestion and immune health. However, when your appendix becomes infected or inflamed, you may develop appendicitis, which often requires surgery to improve painful symptoms.

The purpose of an appendectomy is to remove an infected appendix, often caused by appendicitis. When you develop appendicitis, the condition can decrease blood flow to the appendix wall, leading to tissue death. In serious cases, appendicitis can cause the appendix to burst or rupture, which can cause infection of the entire abdomen and, sometimes, death.

Your healthcare provider may recommend appendix surgery if you are experiencing appendicitis symptoms such as:

There are two main types of appendix surgeries: open and laparoscopic appendectomy. The type of surgery you’ll need will depend on your symptoms, the severity of your condition, and your overall health status.

  • Open appendectomy: One large incision (cut) in the lower right side of the abdomen, which helps your surgeon pull out the appendix completely
  • Laparoscopic appendectomy: One to three small incisions in the abdomen, which helps your surgeon insert a laparoscope (a long tube with a light and camera attached) to see inside the abdomen and remove the appendix

Both types of appendectomies involve the removal of the appendix by making cuts or incisions in the abdomen. If you’re receiving one of these surgeries, you’ll be placed under general anesthesia so that you are asleep during the procedure. Getting an appendix surgery can be overwhelming or worrisome, but knowing how to prepare and what to expect during the procedure can help.

Before the Surgery

Before undergoing an appendectomy, your healthcare provider will likely recommend several tests, such as a complete blood count, abdominal ultrasound or computed tomography (CT) scan, pelvic exam, and urinalysis (urine test), to ensure the surgery is appropriate for you.

When you get the all-clear, your provider will schedule the surgery and give you specific instructions on how to prepare for the procedure—which typically will last an hour.

On the day of your surgery, you’ll arrive at the hospital, where you’ll need to fill out some paperwork. A healthcare provider will guide you into the surgery room, where you will change into a hospital gown and lie on the surgical table.

Your healthcare team will insert an intravenous (IV) line to administer anesthesia, fluids, and medicines. In some cases, your provider may also place a tube down your throat to help you breathe during the surgery.

During the Surgery

During an open appendectomy, your surgeon will make a large incision of about 2-4 inches in the lower right side of your abdomen and take out the appendix. They will then wash the area using a sterile fluid to decrease the risk of infection. A drainage tube is often placed from the inside to the outside of the abdomen to remove excess fluids. Your surgeon will then close the incision with absorbable stitches covered with glue-like bandages.

If you’re receiving a laparoscopic appendectomy, your surgeon will make 1-3 small cuts in your abdomen and then insert a small nozzle into one of the incisions to supply the gas, which helps inflate the abdomen. This process allows your surgeon to visualize the appendix more clearly. Then, they will insert a laparoscope into one of the cuts and remove the appendix. Once the appendix is properly removed, they’ll clean the area and use stitches, staples, or bandages to close you up.

After the Surgery

After an appendectomy, your healthcare team will monitor your status, including your heart rate, oxygen levels, breathing, urine output, and blood pressure. They do this to ensure you are safe and well after the surgery.

You can generally go home the next day, but you may need to stay longer if you had a ruptured appendix. When you’re discharged and ready to go home, you’ll likely need someone to drive you back from your appointment.

You might experience pain and discomfort 24-48 hours post-surgery, but these symptoms gradually decrease as you recover. To mitigate symptoms, your surgeon may recommend Advil (ibuprofen) or Tylenol (acetaminophen) to relieve pain. If you experience additional symptoms or worsening pain, it’s important to tell your healthcare team as soon as possible. You can also expect to come back for a follow-up appointment within a few weeks of your surgery.

An appendectomy is generally safe, and complications of this procedure are rare. However, there is a small risk of certain complications, which may include:

  • Wound infection: Infection at the site of the incision if not cleaned properly, which is more common after laparoscopic appendectomies
  • Blood clot: Longer surgery time and bed rest during recovery can increase the risk of blood clots in the legs
  • Intestinal obstruction: Swelling of the tissues around the intestine can prevent stools and fluids from passing
  • Heart complications: Heart problems can worsen due to general anesthesia, which in rare cases can trigger a heart attack
  • Abscess: While rare, a build-up of pus may occur after surgery if the appendix inflammation was severe

While your healthcare team will give you specific instructions on how to prepare for your procedure, it can help to keep these tips in mind:

  • Wear loose-fitted, comfortable clothes and slip-on shoes that you can easily take on and off at the hospital
  • Leave valuables and jewelry at home
  • Avoid eating and drinking at least eight hours before the surgery
  • Ask your surgeon if it’s okay to continue taking your regular medications
  • Bring your ID and insurance card with you
  • Call your insurance company or hospital billing department to learn what out-of-pocket costs you’ll need to pay
  • Ensure that you have a loved one who can take you to your appointment and bring you home

Full recovery from appendectomy takes a few weeks to a couple of months, depending on the type of appendix surgery you’re having. Generally, recovering from the procedure is faster if you’re having a laparoscopic appendectomy. To ensure that you’re recovering safely, your healthcare provider may offer the following suggestions:

  • Drink at least eight glasses of water per day
  • Eat a high-fiber diet
  • Avoid lifting heavy items or performing strenuous exercise for two weeks after surgery
  • Walk every hour to prevent blood clots
  • Wash your hands before and after touching your incision site
  • Wear loose-fitting clothes that don’t rub against the site of your incision

An appendectomy is a surgery that removes an infected appendix caused by appendicitis. Depending on your symptoms and needs, you’ll either undergo a laparoscopic or open appendectomy. Both surgeries are considered safe, but the recovery time for a laparoscopic appendix surgery is usually shorter.

Having appendix surgery can feel overwhelming, but following your healthcare provider’s instructions before and after the surgery can help you be prepared for the procedure and recover well.

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