Epiploic Appendix: Definition & Functions

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
Although appendices is part of the term, the epiploic appendices (appendages) are not the appendix! Find out what they are in this lesson and what roles some believe they play in our body.

Epiploic Appendix

Have you ever seen pouches of fat on a piece of steak? You can kind of think of these as epiploic appendages, or appendices epiploicae, except found on the external surface of your colon. They are normal in people yet they can become inflamed in a condition known as epiploic appendagitis.

Notice the fatty parts of the steak in the middle? Those are sort of like epipolic appendages.
Some fatty steak

Let's learn more about epiploic appendages and their function in this lesson.

Details

The peritoneum (a thin serous membrane of the abdominopelvic cavity) helps encase the epiploic appendages. Epiploic is a word that denotes something pertaining to the omentum. The omentum is a structure formed by the peritoneum.

Again, epiploic appendages are small fat-filled projections, pouches or globules attached to the external surface of the colon via a vascular stalk (like a stem with a blood vessel). They are more numerously found on the surface of the transverse and sigmoid colon. Each appendage is supplied by one or two small colonic end-arteries (arterioles) and a small central vein (venule). Epiploic appendages may also contain lymphatic channels or very small lymph nodes called epiploic nodes. Take a look at the diagram below to get a good idea of how these things look in the bigger context.

A diagram of the epiploic appendages. Take a look at how the epipolic appendages attach to the surrounding structures.
A diagram of the epiploic appendages

Each person has between 50-100 of these little guys. Most of them are about 0.5-5 cm long, although some as long as 15 cm have been reported! Each epiploic appendage is about 1-2 cm thick. On average, however, they measure about 1.5 cm x 3.5 cm. In the grand scheme of things inside our bodies, that's pretty big!

Epiploic appendages tend to be larger in obese individuals and in people who recently lost weight. It's unclear as to why this is the case.

Functions & Pathology

No one is sure what the function of these guys are. There have been some hypotheses, though. For instance, some suspect that they might act as cushions for the colon during peristalsis (digestive movement of the intestines), since they are pretty soft and flexible. Others believe they might play a role in helping the colon absorb nutrients. Perhaps they are also somehow involved in the immune system as well.

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