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Appendectomy Benefits, Risks, and What to Expect

What Is an Appendectomy?

An appendectomy is surgery to take out your appendix.

Your appendix is a tiny, finger-like organ attached to your large intestine. It's found in the lower right of your abdomen.

You may need your appendix removed if it becomes inflamed or infected, which is a health issue known as appendicitis.

Left untreated, appendicitis can cause your appendix to burst open. If this happens, you can become severely ill or even die.

The most common symptom of appendicitis is severe pain in your lower right belly.

This pain can:

  • Start near your belly button and move to the lower right part of your stomach.
  • Come on suddenly and get worse when you move, sneeze, cough, or take deep breaths.
  • Wake you up while you're sleeping.
  • Get worse in just a few hours.
  • Happen before other symptoms.

Appendectomy Benefits and Risks


Surgery is the standard of care if you have appendicitis. Your doctor will run tests and imaging to confirm a diagnosis.

Your doctor may advise an appendectomy if you:

  • Have ongoing pain in your abdomen, fever, and signs of an infection. Removing your appendix will lessen the chance it will burst and cause severe health problems.
  • Show signs of a burst appendix. In some cases, this may be able to be managed with antibiotics, possible drain placement, and possible surgery in the future. In other cases, you may need emergency surgery to prevent life-threatening illness and death.

Your body doesn't need an appendix to live. Taking it out doesn't cause long-term health issues.

Mild cases of appendicitis may improve with antibiotics and may not need surgery. Antibiotics management does, however, have a risk of treatment failure that may ultimately still require surgery. Researchers still need to find out who can safely use antibiotics alone to treat it.

Appendectomy risks

Problems from an appendectomy are rare but may include:

  • Bruising, bleeding, or infection at the incision site.
  • Blood clots.
  • An abscess — a collection of pus or bacteria — inside your abdomen.
  • An abnormal passage (fistula) that forms between your intestine or stomach and your skin.
  • A small bowel obstruction.
  • Ileus, where your bowel doesn't work properly.
  • Bands of scar-like tissue that form inside your abdomen.
  • Hernias.
  • Heart problems.

What to Expect Before, During, and After an Appendectomy


An appendectomy is most commonly performed as an urgent or emergent surgery after presenting to the emergency department.

If you're having a scheduled appendectomy, your doctor will give you written instructions on how to prep for your surgery. Read these carefully at least a day before your surgery.

They'll tell you:

  • If you can take certain drugs the morning of the surgery. If you can, take them only with a sip of water. Let your doctor know about all medicines and supplements you take so they can tell you which ones to stop taking.
  • When to arrive for your surgery the next day.
  • When to stop eating and drinking the day before your surgery.
  • When to take a shower and if you need to use an antibiotic soap.

Before surgery starts, you'll receive general anesthesia so you won't feel any pain during your procedure.

During surgery to remove your appendix

Your doctor will review your issue and medical history to decide the best type of appendix surgery for you.

Your surgeon may remove your appendix using one of two methods:

Open surgery

Your surgeon will make one large cut in the lower right (or sometimes, the middle) of your abdomen to take out your appendix.

Minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery

Your surgeon will make a few small cuts in your abdomen and insert:

  • A tiny camera (laparoscope) inside a tube through one cut to see your appendix.
  • Special tools through other tubes and cuts to take out your appendix.

Minimally invasive surgery often:

  • Causes fewer complications.
  • Has a shorter recovery time than open surgery.
  • Often allows people to go home the same day as their surgery.

We may need to switch your planned laparoscopic procedure to open surgery for safety reasons.

What happens if my appendix bursts before or during surgery?

If your appendix bursts, you may have problems that your surgeon will take care of during surgery.

You may get an infection of the inside lining of your belly (peritonitis). Your surgeon will clean the inside of your abdomen before taking out your appendix.

An abscess may also form. Your surgeon will drain the pus from the abscess so it can heal.

After appendix removal surgery

Whether you'll need to stay in the hospital depends on several factors, including:

  • How severe your appendicitis is.
  • Post-op pain control.
  • Presence of appendix rupture prior to surgery.
  • Your other health problems.

In many cases, you may be able to go home the same day, however, in others, you may experience a several-day hospitalization.

With scheduled appendix surgery, you may go home the same day. With emergency surgery, you may need to stay in the hospital overnight.

An appendectomy cures appendicitis so you should not need to make lifestyle changes after recovering from surgery.

Before you leave the hospital, your care team will give you written details on how to care for your incision and yourself.

They'll include when you can:

  • Remove your bandages.
  • Take a shower or a bath.
  • Go back to work or resume your normal routine.

You'll also make a follow-up appointment with your surgeon, one to four weeks post-op.

Healing time after appendix surgery

In general, recovery time for:

  • Laparoscopic surgery is between three and seven days.
  • Open surgery is 10 to 14 days.

You should limit physical activity, but walking every day will help with your recovery.

You can likely drive 24 hours after your appendectomy, but it is best to check with your provider. Don't drive if you're in pain or if you're on prescribed pain medicine.

Some pain in your incision site or stomach is normal.

You may also have shoulder pain from the gas used to expand the stomach cavity during surgery. This typically goes away within 48 hours.

For most pain, over-the-counter pain drugs like acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (e.g., Advil®) will help you feel better. Your doctor may also prescribe pain medicine.

When to call your doctor?

You should feel better as each day goes by.

Call your doctor if you don't start feeling better, or if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Fever over 101 degrees F (38.5 C).
  • Severe pain or swelling in your belly.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • You can't eat or drink anything.
  • Blood or pus coming from your incision site.
  • Redness in your surgery site that spreads or gets worse.
  • Pain that won't go away with drugs.
  • Breathing problems or a cough that doesn't go away.

Contact UPMC About Appendix Surgery and Care

To make an appointment, contact a location near you. Or call 1-866-629-8077 if you need help.

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