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Appendicitis – What Is It & When May I Have A Medical Negligence Claim?

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What is the appendix?

The appendix is a small, narrow tube/pouch about 5 to 10 cm (2 to 4 inches) long. It is connected to the large intestine, but nobody knows exactly what it does and so it is not thought to have any useful function. It is usually located in the lower right-hand side of your abdomen, but in pregnant women it may be anatomically displaced.

Why do people have the appendix removed?

The appendix is subject to a well-known complication called appendicitis. Appendicitis is the sudden, painful swelling of the appendix – sometimes caused by a blockage – which if untreated can result in inflammation, infection, sepsis, infertility (in women) or if the appendix ruptures, peritonitis. Peritonitis is where the lining of the abdomen becomes infected with bacteria, which can subsequently cause damage to your internal organs. If peritonitis is not treated immediately, it can cause long-term problems or could even be fatal.

Appendicitis is the most common abdominal emergency and accounts for more than 40,000 hospital admissions in England every year (approximately 1 per 1500 population). It is estimated that about 10% of the population will develop acute appendicitis. Appendicitis is most common between the ages of 10 and 20 years, and it is more common in men than women, but anyone can develop appendicitis at any age.

Removing the appendix is not harmful, given that it is not thought to serve any useful function, and removal is actually the preferred method for treating suspected appendicitis. Removal of the appendix is known as an appendicectomy or appendectomy, and it is actually one of the most common operations in the UK and has an excellent success rate.

In fact, it is possible that during surgery your surgeon will find that your symptoms are not due to appendicitis, but some other reason, and even though they will then aim to treat whatever is causing your problem during the operation if possible; they may still remove the appendix anyway to prevent any complications arising in the future. This is considered to be standard practice.

What are the signs of a problem with the appendix/what are the symptoms of appendicitis?

The most common symptoms include:

  • Pain in your abdomen (which usually starts in the centre and then moves to the lower-right hand side) – pressing on this area, coughing or walking may make the pain worse;
  • Loss of appetite;
  • Feeling sick or vomiting;
  • Constipation or diarrhoea; and
  • High temperature (fever) and a flushed face.

If you have abdominal pain that is gradually getting worse, contact a GP or your local out-of-hours service immediately. If these options are not available, call NHS 111 for advice.

Call 999 to ask for an ambulance if you have pain that suddenly gets worse and spreads across your abdomen, or if your pain temporarily improves before getting worse again.

If your pain eases for a while but then gets worse, your appendix may have burst, which can lead to life-threatening complications.

Should appendicitis be easily detected?

Despite being one of the most common abdominal emergencies, clinical diagnosis of appendicitis can actually be quite challenging; particularly in the early stages where the symptoms can be non-specific or atypical. In fact, the ‘classic’ presentation of appendicitis symptoms will only appear in approximately 50% of patients.

To some extent, in the UK there is a culture of overtreatment with suspected appendicitis as the risks of missing a case of appendicitis, being potentially life-threatening or life changing (such as infertility in women) injuries, are considered to outweigh the rare complications that can arise in removing the appendix. As a result, it is estimated that a normal appendix is removed in between 10-20% of appendicectomies.

When may I have a claim for appendicitis?

You may have a claim for compensation if you have received negligent treatment connected with appendicitis. Examples of circumstances where there may be a claim for compensation include where:

  • there is misdiagnosis or a delay in diagnosing appendicitis;
  • the appendicitis is undiagnosed;
  • the appendicitis is not treated correctly;
  • inadequate or no pain relief is given;
  • there is negligence during surgery (for example, damage to other organs or failure to remove all of the appendix);
  • there are complications after surgery;
  • it is necessary for further, corrective surgery to take place following failings in the first surgery;
  • there is insufficient or inadequate aftercare.

However, please remember that it is considered standard practice for a normal appendix to be removed (either through misdiagnosis of appendicitis or in the course of other surgery). Subsequently, it is not possible to bring a claim solely for removal of a healthy appendix. Read our client stories here.

Initially it may seem a daunting task, trying to navigate the maze of jargon and medical terms, in pursuit of seeking answers…we’re here to help.

Call us today… an initial discussion costs nothing and you’ll be talking to one of the most experienced, specialist teams in the region.

Gemma Pabari


Gemma Pabari


Gemma is a Solicitor within the Medical Negligence Team. Gemma has experience in advising on a range of Medical Negligence claims, to include delays in diagnosing and treating Cauda Equina Syndrome, representing clients on matters arising from complications with pregnancy.