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Appendix removal (appendicectomy)

Key points

  • If you have appendicitis, you will need surgery to remove your appendix. This operation is called an appendicectomy (or appendectomy).
  • There are two different techniques used for appendix removal – open surgery or keyhole (laparoscopic) surgery.
  • Both types of surgery are done under general anaesthesia.

Appendicectomy is an operation to remove your appendix.

You will meet the surgeon carrying out your procedure to discuss your care. It may differ from what is described here as it will be designed to meet your individual needs.

About appendix removal

Your appendix is a small pouch attached to the first part of your large bowel. It can be found in the lower right-hand side of your abdomen (tummy). Sometimes, your appendix can become inflamed and this is known as appendicitis. If you have appendicitis, you will need surgery to remove your appendix.

There are two techniques used for appendix removal – open surgery and keyhole (laparoscopic) surgery. Keyhole surgery is now more common than open surgery. Advantages of keyhole surgery include:

  • a shorter stay in hospital
  • quicker recovery
  • less chance of complications

What are the alternatives?

Very rarely, appendicitis may be treated with antibiotics rather than surgery. Usually, this is only if you aren’t well enough to have an operation straight away. You will still need to have an operation at a later date.

Preparing for appendix removal

Appendix removal is usually done under general anaesthesia, and you will need to stay in hospital overnight.

You may be asked to wear compression stockings to help prevent blood clots forming in the veins in your legs. You may also be given an injection of an anticlotting medicine called heparin as well as, or instead of, wearing compression stockings.

Your nurse will measure your heart rate, temperature and blood pressure, and test your urine. He or she will usually give you antibiotics through a tube inserted into a vein in your arm, before you have your operation.

Your surgeon will discuss with you what will happen before, during and after your operation, and any pain you might have. This is your opportunity to understand what will happen, and you can help yourself by preparing questions to ask about the risks and benefits. This will help you to be informed, so you can give your consent for the procedure to go ahead. You will be asked to sign a consent form.

What happens during appendix removal

The operation usually takes 20 to 45 minutes, although this depends on the technique used.

If you have keyhole surgery, your surgeon will make two or three small cuts in your lower abdomen. He or she will insert hollow tubes, called ports, through these cuts into your lower abdomen. Your surgeon will then remove your appendix using special instruments passed through these ports. He or she will close the skin cuts with stitches, sutures (surgical clips) or glue.

If you have open surgery, your surgeon will make a single cut on the right side of your lower abdomen. Through this cut, your surgeon will remove your appendix. He or she will close the cut with stitches, sutures or glue.

What to expect afterwards

You will need to rest until the effects of the anaesthetic have passed. You will also need pain relief to help with any discomfort as the anaesthetic wears off.

If you had open surgery, you may have a catheter to drain urine from your bladder into a bag. You may also have fine tubes coming out of your wound. These drain fluid into another bag and are usually removed after a day or two.

When you feel ready, you will be encouraged to eat, drink and gently start walking.

You will need to arrange for someone to drive you home.

Recovering from appendix removal

Usually, you will leave hospital the day after your appendix removal.

It will usually take around seven days before you’re ready to return to work or school. However, this can vary between individuals, so it's important to follow your surgeon's advice. Depending on the type of surgery you have had, you may be advised to limit your physical activity for a couple of weeks.

If you need pain relief, you can take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Always read the patient information that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist for advice.

What are the risks?

As with every procedure, there are some risks associated with having your appendix removed. We haven’t included the chance of these happening as they are specific to you and differ for every person. Ask your surgeon to explain how these risks apply to you.

Side-effects

These are the unwanted, but mostly temporary effects you may get after your procedure, for example, feeling sick as a result of the general anaesthetic.

Side-effects of appendix removal can include:

  • soreness, swelling and bruising around your wound
  • scarring – you will have a scar, but this usually fades gradually over time

Complications

This is when problems occur during or after the procedure. Most people aren’t affected. The possible complications of any operation include an unexpected reaction to the anaesthetic, infection, excessive bleeding or developing a blood clot, usually in a vein in your leg (deep vein thrombosis, DVT).

Sometimes, an infection can develop either in your wound or deeper in your abdomen. Contact your GP or hospital if you develop:

  • increasing pain or pain that can't be controlled with painkillers
  • a high temperature or sweating attacks
  • redness, swelling or a discharge from your wound

Other complications specific to appendix removal are uncommon but can include:

  • an abscess (a collection of pus) developing in your abdomen
  • a bowel obstruction, which can happen quite some time after your operation

 

Reviewed by Kuljeet Battoo, Bupa Health Information Team, October 2013.

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For sources and links to further information, see Resources.

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  • This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.

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