Your appendix is a small, fingerlike tube that hangs from the bottom of the right side of your large intestine. But when your appendix becomes infected (appendicitis), it can be painful and require surgery. Following a specific diet after your surgery is important for a healthy recovery.
About one of every 500 people is affected by appendicitis each year, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Risk for the condition tends to peak between ages 15 and 30.
Symptoms of appendicitis include:
- Abdominal pain that tends to start above the belly button and then moves to the lower right side of the abdomen
- A swollen stomach
- Pain when the right side of the abdomen is touched
- Low-grade fever
- An inability to pass gas
- A change in your regular bowel habits
If you're noticing these symptoms, avoid laxatives or pain-relief medications, cautions Harvard Health. Laxatives can increase the risk of the appendix bursting, and pain medication can mask symptoms and cause difficulty with diagnosis.
If untreated, the appendix can burst and spread the infection into your abdomen and bloodstream, says the Sepsis Alliance. So it's important to see a doctor if you're noticing symptoms.
To confirm a diagnosis, your doctor will review your medical history, do a physical examination and test your blood to check for signs of an infection. An ultrasound or computed tomography (CT) scan may be done as well, explains the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
Standard treatment for appendicitis involves surgery to remove the inflamed appendix, the Mayo Clinic explains. Before the operation, though, people with appendicitis often are given antibiotics to fight the infection.
Surgery for Appendicitis
Surgery to remove an inflamed appendix is known as an appendectomy, and two different types, with differing recovery times, can be used, notes the American College of Surgeons (ACS). Laparoscopic appendectomy is the most common procedure for simple appendicitis, requiring only one to three small incisions in the abdomen, says the ACS, whereas an open appendectomy requires a 2- to 4-inch-long incision in the abdomen.
A laparoscopic appendectomy is an outpatient procedure, meaning you will be able to go home the same day. With an open appendectomy, you may have to stay in the hospital for a day or so. Open appendectomy also has a higher likelihood of complications and wound infections after the surgery, compared with laparoscopic surgery.
After discharge, your belly may be swollen and painful, and you may feel weak. According to Kaiser Permanente, you may also feel sick to your stomach or have diarrhea, constipation or gas. These symptoms are temporary, and most people can return to work within one to three weeks after a laparoscopic appendectomy. On the other hand, if you've had an open surgery, you may not be back to work for two to four weeks.
Eating After an Appendectomy
After surgery, you will first be offered small amounts of liquids. If those seem to be going down well, you may upgrade to solid foods slowly.
"The best thing you can do is to be gentle on your digestive system," says Jen Lyman, RD, founder of New Leaf Nutrition in the Greater St. Louis area. "Your intestine was cut into and needs to heal, so opt for soft foods like soups, well-cooked vegetables and tender meat."
Sometimes taking pain medication post-op leads to constipation. The ACS recommends consuming a high-fiber diet after surgery to avoid any straining during bowel movements. Mayo Clinic suggests that women aim to eat at least 21 to 25 grams of fiber a day, and men should consume 30 to 38 grams each day. High-fiber foods include:
- Whole-wheat pasta
- Green peas
- Chia seeds
Your body is able to work normally after your appendix is removed, according to Kaiser Permanente, so you can resume your normal diet and lifestyle once you've recovered. Remember, however, that each person recovers at a different pace.
Is This an Emergency?
- Harvard Medical School: “Appendicitis”
- Mayo Clinic: "Appendicitis, Diagnosis & Treatment"
- American College of Surgeons: “Appendectomy”
- Kaiser Permanente: “Appendectomy: What to Expect at Home”
- Jen Lyman, RD, founder, New Leaf Nutrition, Greater St. Louis area
- Mayo Clinic: “Chart of High-Fiber Foods”
- Sepsis Alliance: "Appendicitis"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Diagnosis of Appendicitis"