All ages are susceptible to hernias and appendicitis
By Dustin Smith, M.D.
Franklin Surgical Specialists
You have a sharp, escalating pain in your lower abdomen accompanied by a fever and maybe even vomiting. So severe, in fact, that it brings you to the Emergency Department at Williamson Medical Center. Often, we are able to diagnose you with one of two things we see frequently: a hernia or appendicitis.
From a patient perspective, anything that brings you to the ED is scary because it hits you suddenly and before you know it, you find yourself at the hospital not knowing what in the world is happening inside your body.
It’s worth taking a look at these conditions and their symptoms, similarities and differences, which might help ease a bit of anxiety if you find yourself en route to our ED.
The appendix is a small, tubular organ about the size and shape of your pinky finger. Ideally, it’s hollow and contents from your GI tract move in and out freely. But when something obstructs that, the results can be intensely painful.
When the appendix becomes blocked, bacteria have a place to grow. That causes inflammation and infection, which becomes appendicitis. What you will feel is pain in your abdomen and within 12 to 24 hours, the pain intensifies, migrates to the right lower abdomen and you might experience vomiting. It can get pretty painful pretty fast. If you think you’ve had this abdominal pain for a month, it’s not likely appendicitis.
This is very common, as is the laparoscopic procedure we do to remove the appendix.
If you show up in our ED with these symptoms, we may do a CT scan to rule out other possibilities and we look for an elevated white blood cell count, which signals infection. These tests, along with a thorough physical exam, are extremely accurate. If the clinical exam and tests support the diagnosis, you are looking at surgery relatively soon.
Surgery is ideally laparoscopic, so there’s less scarring, less pain and a quicker recovery. Typically you don’t even know your appendix is gone and we get you in and out in a day or so. Less than a week off from work and you are back on your feet. I tell patients they will wake up feeling a lot better than they did before the surgery.
It’s rare that we see a common denominator that sends both teenagers and people over 50 to the operating room for essentially the same reason. Both age groups, although for different reasons, are susceptible to hernias.
Hernias are basically a weakness in a muscle that allows something from inside the body to try and bulge outward. We see them commonly happening in three areas: the groin, the belly button and in an old incision. Hernias typically show up in a spot where muscle tone loses its integrity.
In the younger teen generation, we think there is a bit of innate weakness that allows guys to develop groin hernias from overdoing it in sports training. These tend to show up in sports physicals of younger male athletes.
As for everyone else, hernias stem from a lifetime of heavy lifting, straining and stress on the body that can tend to weaken the muscles. People who do repetitive lifting day in and day out are ideal candidates for hernias.
Hernias can be small and not bothersome at all. In this case, you don’t have to fix them. If they are getting larger, you have discomfort or you don’t like the way it looks, you can fix it with surgery. We typically do this laparoscopically, so the advantages are small incisions with less scarring, less post-op pain and a quicker return to normal activity.
These are very common procedures, so if you suspect you have a hernia, it’s worth getting it checked out.
So what is the best thing to do if you think you might have one? Start with your primary care physician. They can perform a physical exam. There is really very little testing involved in diagnosing a hernia. An ultrasound or CT scan is occasionally used to rule out other alternatives, but it’s a pretty easy diagnosis. If the primary doctor has questions, they send them to us and we fix it.
Dustin Smith, M.D., is a board-certified general surgeon with Franklin Surgical Specialists and is a credentialed physician with Williamson Medical Center.
Posted on: 7/16/2013