An appendectomy is surgery to remove the appendix.
The appendix is a small, finger-shaped organ that branches off from the first part of the large intestine. The appendix is removed when it becomes swollen (inflamed) or infected. This condition is called appendicitis. An appendix that has a hole in it (perforated) can leak and infect the entire abdomen area. This can be life-threatening.
Appendectomy is done using either:
Spinal anesthesia: Medicine is put into your back to make you numb below your waist. You will also get medicine to make you sleepy.
When the diagnosis is not clear, the doctor may order a CT scan or ultrasound to make sure the appendix is the cause of the problem.
There are no actual tests to confirm that you have appendicitis. Other illnesses can cause the same or similar symptoms.
The goal is to remove an infected appendix before it breaks open (ruptures). After reviewing your symptoms and the results of the physical exam and medical tests, your surgeon will decide whether you need surgery.
Even when the surgeon finds that the appendix is not infected, it will be removed to prevent future problems.
Risks of anesthesia include the following:
Reactions to medications
Risks of surgery include:
Other risks of an appendectomy after a ruptured appendix include:
Buildup of pus, which may need draining and antibiotics
Longer hospital stays
Side effects from medications
After the Procedure
Patients tend to recover quickly after a simple appendectomy. Most patients leave the hospital in 1 to 2 days after surgery. You can go back to your normal activities within 2 to 4 weeks after leaving the hospital.
Patients who have the appendix removed through small surgical cuts tend to recover and get back to their daily activities faster.
Recovery is slower and more complicated if the appendix has broken open or an abscess has formed.
Living without an appendix causes no known health problems.
Debra G. Wechter, MD, FACS, General Surgery practice specializing in breast cancer, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.