Also known as: Appendix surgery

Surgery overview
An appendectomy, the surgical removal of the appendix, is standard procedure to treat a swollen and inflamed appendix (appendicitis). The appendix is a 3 ½-inch long, finger shaped pouch that extends from the end of the large intestine.

Why it is done
The appendix has no known function and usually does not cause problems. But, if it becomes blocked it can quickly become swollen and infected. If it were to burst inside the body it would cause a life-threatening condition called peritonitis. Quick removal of the appendix before it bursts is therefore necessary.

How it is done
An appendectomy is usually performed by a general surgeon who may use open (traditional) or laparoscopic (minimally invasive) techniques.

  • Open (traditional) appendectomy: In an open appendectomy the surgeon will remove the appendix through an incision in the abdominal wall. The incision is usually around four inches long.
  • Laparoscopic (minimally invasive) appendectomy: In a laparoscopic appendectomy your surgeon uses a laparoscope, a narrow, flexible tube with a camera at the end, to locate and visualize the appendix. The laparoscope and other surgical instruments are inserted through small incisions in the abdomen to remove the appendix.

Minimally invasive techniques are used because the smaller incisions often result in less pain, shorter hospital stays, quicker recovery and less scarring. Not all patients are candidates for minimally invasive surgery and there may be additional risks. Patients must discuss their surgical options and the associated risks carefully with their surgeon.

Either way, you may take antibiotics before your surgery, after your surgery, or both. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of surgery and not everyone is a candidate for minimally invasive procedures. Talk with your surgeon about which type is best for you.

After surgery
Most people leave the hospital 1 to 3 days after having surgery to remove the appendix. But if the appendix has ruptured and there is infection in the abdomen or other problems, it takes longer to get better. People who have laparoscopic surgery usually return to normal activities in 1 to 3 weeks. Those who have a traditional appendectomy generally return to normal activities in 3 to 4 weeks.

Risks include those associated with any type of major surgery such as bleeding, blood clots, infection and problems with anesthesia.

There may be other risks associated with laparoscopic appendectomy. Patients should carefully discuss all risks with their surgeons and make sure they fully understand them before undergoing surgery.

Learn more
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