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Science
CASE NOTES
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Tuesday 21:00-21:30
Repeat Wednesday 16:30
Dr Mark Porter gives listeners the low-down on what the medical profession does and doesn't know. Each week an expert in the studio tackles a particular topic and there are reports from around the UK on the health of the nation - and the NHS.
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LISTEN AGAINListen 30 min
Listen to 27 January
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DR MARK PORTER
Dr Mark Porter
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Tuesday 27 January 2009
Appendix

Full programme transcript >>

The Appendix

In this episode of Case Notes, Dr Mark Porter investigates the appendix - which between 5 and 10% of the population will have removed at some time in their lives, making it the cause of one of the commonest surgical emergencies.

The symptoms of appendicitis are vague abdominal discomfort that moves within 12 hours or so to a sharper pain in right lower side, but it’s isn’t always as straightforward to diagnose as the symptoms suggest. Sometimes there is also vomiting and diarrhoea.

If a diagnosis is delayed, the inflamed appendix can burst and infect the abdominal cavity – a potentially lethal complication known as peritonitis.

We hear from one mother about how her five-year-old daughter had to have her appendix removed after she became ill on holiday in Egypt.

The appendix looks like a pink earthworm, and is typically five to six centimetres long. It hangs down from the lower part of the caecum – the section of the gut where the small intestine meets the colon, just above the right groin.

One of the reasons that the appendix is so prone to becoming inflamed is because it’s narrow, and easily blocked.

And as it becomes inflamed, the thin walls swell and their blood supply becomes restricted. If left for too long, the whole structure starts to rot allowing the contents to of bowel to seep out into the sterile abdominal cavity leading to peritonitis – a potentially dangerous infection.

Mark hears about the keyhole method of carrying out an appendectomy which uses a laparoscopic camera; the technique not only leaves smaller scars, but also means that the surgeon can look around and confirm that the camera is causing the problem.

So why do we have an appendix and what does it do? Conventional wisdom has it that the appendix serves no useful role, and that it’s an evolutionary remnant with no specific function.

However, that belief is being turned on it’s head by new research suggesting that the appendix could have an important immune function.

Professor Bill Parker from Duke University in North Carolina explains his theory that the cul-de-sac of the appendix acts as safe haven for the some of the billions of friendly bacteria that live in the colon - a beneficial role which could literally prove lifesaving in developing countries.

Next week: The Heart
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