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Epiploic appendagitis (EA) is a term that describes the swelling or inflammation of the epiploic appendices. The term "epiploic appendagitis" came into existence in 1956. Knowledge of the condition, however, stretches to about a century before then, when German physician Rudolf Ludwig Karl Virchow studied the results of defective epiploic appendices.
The epiploic appendices, also known as appendices epiploicae, epiploic appendages or omental appendices, are fat-filled pouches of the peritoneum, which line the body's abdomen. They are located externally along the colon, particularly in its transverse and sigmoid sections. Their name is derived from the Greek word "epipleein." They are so named because of the part of the peritoneum where they can be found, called the greater omentum, which seems to "float" on the intestines situated below it.
Each appendage usually measures about 0.2 to 2 inches (or 0.5 to 5 cm). The role of the epiploic appendages is largely unknown. Some physicians, however, believe that their thickness—about 0.4 to 0.8 inches (1 to 2 cm)—serves as a defense wall against the spread of infections across the peritoneum.
Epiploic appendagitis occurs when excessive gas content stretches the abdomen. This condition is known as torsion, and in most instances, the swelling of the appendices usually occur in the sigmoid colon. Although EA can appear irrespective of age and gender, it is most common in with men in their 20s to 50s.
Acute abdominal pain is the most common symptom of epiploic appendagitis. It is very easy, however, to misdiagnose it as acute appendicitis or diverticulitis; the latter is a term applied to a digestive disease of the colon. The pain typically occurs at the left lower quadrant, which is the area between the abdomen's mid-line and the navel. Fevers are absent in people with EA. In fact, apart from the abdominal pain, there are no obvious signs of illness. Thus proper diagnosis is difficult with this particular disease.
Generally, however, epiploic appendagitis is a harmless, self-limiting condition. Physicians often merely prescribe an analgestic, or painkiller. EA can resolve itself in as little as three days, although resolution can take up to two weeks in some cases. Complications from treatment are incredibly uncommon, and the chances of recurrence are low.
Alternate terms for epiploic appendagitis include appendicitis epiploica, or simply appendagitis. Members of the medical community, however, limit the use of the aforementioned terms because they can be confused with acute appendicitis. Like EA, acute appendicitis is an inflammatory condition, but it affects the appendix.