There are not many not-traumatic
medical conditions that require aggressive
surgical intervention. But such is
usually the case for appendicitis, an inflammation
of the appendix. It most
commonly strikes healthy young people
between ages 10 and 30, and usually without warning.
The appendix is a dead-end sac that hangs between the small
and large intestines. It’s about ½” in diameter and 3″ long. Scientists
used to think that the appendix was merely a useless evolutionary
leftover, but we have since discovered its importance.
As quickly as 11 weeks after conception, the appendix starts
making endocrine cells. These cells secrete useful chemicals like
regulatory hormones that help with the developing fetus.
After birth, the appendix mainly helps the body stave off disease
by making white blood cells and antibodies. The appendix also
produces certain chemicals that help direct the white blood cells
to the parts of the body where they are needed the most.
The digestive tract is a good training ground for young white
blood cells. The appendix, routinely collecting and expelling
foodstuffs, exposes the white blood cells to bacteria and viruses
passing through the gut. In this way, the white blood cells learn
to fight potentially deadly pathogens.
Doctors would routinely remove the appendix during other types
of abdominal surgery – just in case it might some day become
infected, but this is no longer the case.
In fact, later in life, we can often use the appendix in reconstructive
surgery of digestive or urinary defects without having to resort
to transplants. Totally tubular.