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Appendix (Anatomy): Appendix Picture, Location, Definition, Function, Conditions, Tests, and Treatments
WebMD’s Appendix Anatomy Page provides detailed images, definitions, and information about the appendix. Learn about its function, parts, location in the body, and conditions that affect the appendix, as well as tests and treatments for appendix conditions.
Digestive Disorders Reference
Picture of the Appendix
By Matthew Hoffman, MD
Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on May 18, 2019
© 2014 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.
Front View of the Appendix
The appendix sits at the junction of the small intestine and large intestine. It’s a thin tube about four inches long. Normally, the appendix sits in the lower right abdomen.
The function of the appendix is unknown. One theory is that the appendix acts as a storehouse for good bacteria, “rebooting” the digestive system after diarrheal illnesses. Other experts believe the appendix is just a useless remnant from our evolutionary past. Surgical removal of the appendix causes no observable health problems.
Appendicitis: For unclear reasons, the appendix often becomes inflamed, infected, and can rupture. This causes severe pain in the right lower part of the belly, along with nausea and vomiting.
Tumors of the appendix: Carcinoid tumors secrete chemicals that cause periodic flushing, wheezing, and diarrhea. Epithelial tumors are growths in the appendix that can be benign or cancerous. Appendix tumors are rare.
Medical examination: The original test for appendicitis, a simple examination of the belly remains important in making the diagnosis. Changes in the abdominal exam help doctors tell if appendicitis is progressing, as well.
CT scan (computed tomography): A CT scanner uses X-rays and a computer to create detailed images. In appendicitis, CT scans can show the inflamed appendix, and whether it has ruptured.
Ultrasound: An ultrasound uses sound waves to detect signs of appendicitis, such as a swollen appendix.
Complete blood count (CBC): An increased number of white blood cells -- a sign of infection and inflammation -- are often seen on blood tests during appendicitis.
Other imaging tests: When a rare tumor of the appendix is suspected, imaging exams may locate it. These include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET), and CT scans.
Appendectomy: Surgery is the only treatment for appendicitis. The doctor may use the traditional technique (one large cut) or laparoscopy (several small cuts and using a camera to see inside). Surgery is also needed to remove tumors of the appendix. If the tumor is large, it may require more aggressive surgery with removal of part of the colon.
Antibiotics: While the diagnosis is in question, antibiotics treat any potential infection that might be causing the symptoms. In general, antibiotics alone cannot effectively treat appendicitis.
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appendix, formally vermiform appendix, in anatomy, a vestigial hollow tube that is closed at one end and is attached at the other end to the cecum, a pouchlike beginning of the large intestine into which the small intestine empties its contents. It is not clear whether the appendix serves any useful purpose in humans. Suspected functions include housing and cultivating beneficial gut flora that can repopulate the digestive system following an illness that wipes out normal populations of these flora; providing a site for the production of endocrine cells in the fetus that produce molecules important in regulating homeostasis; and
By The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica • Edit History
structures of the human large intestine, rectum, and anus
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Related Topics: appendix anal canal rectum colon cecum
See all related content →large intestine, posterior section of the intestine, consisting typically of four regions: the cecum, colon, rectum, and anus. The term colon is sometimes used to refer to the entire large intestine.
The large intestine is wider and shorter than the small intestine (approximately 1.5 metres, or 5 feet, in length as compared with 6.7 to 7.6 metres, or 22 to 25 feet, in length for the small intestine) and has a smooth inner wall. In the proximal, or upper, half of the large intestine, enzymes from the small intestine complete the digestive process, and bacteria produce B vitamins (B12, thiamin, and riboflavin) as well as vitamin K. The primary function of the large intestine, however, is absorption of water and electrolytes from digestive residues (a process that usually takes 24 to 30 hours) and storage of fecal matter until it can be expelled. Churning movements of the large intestine gradually expose digestive residue to the absorbing walls. A progressive and more vigorous type of movement known as the gastrocolic reflex, which occurs only two or three times daily, propels the material toward the anus.
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Common afflictions of the large intestine include inflammation, such as colitis; diverticulosis; and abnormal growths, such as benign or malignant tumours.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Adam Augustyn.
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Jump to navigation Jump to search Appendix
Drawing of colon with variability of appendix locations as seen from front
Arteries of cecum and appendix (appendix labeled as at lower right)
Details Precursor Midgut
System Digestive system
Artery Appendicular artery
Vein Appendicular vein
Identifiers Latin MeSH D001065 TA98 A05.7.02.007 TA2 2976 FMA 14542
[edit on Wikidata]
Ileocecal junction (appendix appears in blue)
The appendix (or vermiform appendix; also cecal [or caecal] appendix; vermix; or vermiform process) is a finger-like, blind-ended tube connected to the cecum, from which it develops in the embryo. The cecum is a pouch-like structure of the large intestine, located at the junction of the small and the large intestines. The term "vermiform" comes from Latin and means "worm-shaped." The appendix used to be considered a vestigial organ, but this view has changed over the past decades. Research suggests that the appendix may serve an important purpose. In particular, it may serve as a reservoir for beneficial gut bacteria.
1 Structure 1.1 Variation 2 Functions
2.1 Maintaining gut flora
2.2 Immune and lymphatic systems
3 Clinical significance
3.1 Appendicitis 3.2 Surgery 4 History 5 Additional images 6 See also 7 References 8 Further reading
Abdominal ultrasound showing a normal appendix between the external iliac artery and the abdominal wall
The human appendix averages 9 cm (3.5 in) in length but can range from 5 to 35 cm (2.0 to 13.8 in). The diameter of the appendix is 6 mm (0.24 in), and more than 6 mm (0.24 in) is considered a thickened or inflamed appendix. The longest appendix ever removed was 26 cm (10 in) long. The appendix is usually located in the lower right quadrant of the abdomen, near the right hip bone. The base of the appendix is located 2 cm (0.79 in) beneath the ileocecal valve that separates the large intestine from the small intestine. Its position within the abdomen corresponds to a point on the surface known as McBurney's point.
The appendix is connected to the mesentery in the lower region of the ileum, by a short region of the mesocolon known as the mesoappendix.
Some identical twins—known as mirror image twins—can have a mirror-imaged anatomy, a congenital condition with the appendix located in the lower left quadrant of the abdomen instead of the lower right. Intestinal malrotation may also cause displacement of the appendix to the left side.
While the base of the appendix is typically located 2 cm (0.79 in) below the ileocecal valve, the tip of the appendix can be variably located—in the pelvis, outside the peritoneum or behind the cecum. The prevalence of the different positions varies amongst populations with the retrocecal position being most common in Ghana and Sudan, with 67.3% and 58.3% occurrence respectively, in comparison to Iran and Bosnia where the pelvic position is most common, with 55.8% and 57.7% occurrence respectively.
In very rare cases, the appendix may not be present at all (laparotomies for suspected appendicitis have given a frequency of 1 in 100,000).
Sometimes there is a semi-circular fold of mucous membrane at the opening of the appendix. This is also called Gerlach's valve.
Maintaining gut flora
A possible function of the human appendix is a "safe house" for beneficial bacteria in the recovery from diarrhea
Although it has been long accepted that the immune tissue surrounding the appendix and elsewhere in the gut—called gut-associated lymphoid tissue—carries out a number of important functions, explanations were lacking for the distinctive shape of the appendix and its apparent lack of specific importance and function as judged by an absence of side effects following its removal. Therefore, the notion that the appendix is only vestigial became widely held.
William Parker, Randy Bollinger, and colleagues at Duke University proposed in 2007 that the appendix serves as a haven for useful bacteria when illness flushes the bacteria from the rest of the intestines. This proposition is based on an understanding that emerged by the early 2000s of how the immune system supports the growth of beneficial intestinal bacteria, in combination with many well-known features of the appendix, including its architecture, its location just below the normal one-way flow of food and germs in the large intestine, and its association with copious amounts of immune tissue. Research performed at Winthrop–University Hospital showed that individuals without an appendix were four times as likely to have a recurrence of colitis. The appendix, therefore, may act as a "safe house" for beneficial bacteria. This reservoir of bacteria could then serve to repopulate the gut flora in the digestive system following a bout of dysentery or cholera or to boost it following a milder gastrointestinal illness.