The appendix is a finger like 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.

Appendicitis is a painful swelling and infection of the appendix. Appendicitis is a medical emergency that requires immediate care. People who think they have appendicitis should see a doctor or go to the emergency room right away. Swift diagnosis and treatment reduce the chances the appendix will burst and improve recovery time.

Surgery to remove the appendix is called an appendectomy. Your doctor may recommend having an open appendectomy if your appendix has already burst or if you have had previous open abdominal surgery.

Before the procedure, your doctor will briefly explain the entire procedure. You will be offered the opportunity to ask any questions that you may have about the procedure. Your doctor will obtain your entire medical history, perform a thorough physical examination, and obtain blood and other diagnostic tests to check for any abnormalities. You should notify your doctor about your medications, allergies and any other existing medical conditions. You will be instructed not to eat or drink before undergoing the procedure.

You will be given general anaesthesia, which means you will sleep throughout the entire procedure. A 5 to 8 cm incision will be made in the lower right region of your abdomen. Your abdominal muscles will be separated, and an entry way will be created into your abdominal cavity. On entering the abdominal cavity, your appendix will be located. Your appendix will then be tied off with sutures and removed. If your doctor finds your appendix to be ruptured, he or she will wash your abdomen thoroughly with saline and place a small tube in the incision to drain out any fluid or pus. Your surgeon will then close the lining of your abdominal cavity and abdominal muscles with stitches. On completion of the procedure, the appendix will be sent to the laboratory for analysis. Your doctor will close your skin incision with sutures or surgical staples and apply sterile dressings over the surgical wound.

You will be admitted in the hospital for up to a week and given antibiotics and pain medications by your doctor. It is quite normal to feel constipated so you might be prescribed laxatives or stool softeners. You will be instructed on proper wound care and activity restrictions. You may return to your normal activities in a week or two after your procedure but you will need to avoid strenuous activities for four to six weeks following your open appendectomy. Your doctor will make arrangements for your follow-up visits, usually two to three weeks after your procedure. Stitches will be removed during a follow-up visit to your doctor’s office.

It is important to check for any signs of a problem during the postoperative period. Contact your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Increasing pain or swelling
  • Repeated vomiting
  • Persistent fever above 38 degrees Celsius
  • Bleeding or discharge from the incision site
  • Difficulty breathing or persistent coughing

Appendectomies are one of the most commonly performed surgical procedures and long-term complications are rare. Some of the potential risks include wound infection, bleeding under the skin (haematoma), scarring and hernia formation.