Abstract Life events were recorded for the year preceding appendicectomy in 119 patients aged 17-30. In 63 appendicitis was confirmed histologically and in 56 the appendix was not acutely inflamed. Both groups had experienced significantly more events than a community comparison group when those events which carry some degree of threat to the individual are considered. In the case of severe events, however, the patients whose appendix was normal or only mildly inflamed demonstrated a pattern similar to that found in depression, whereas those with acute appendicitis were similar to the community comparison group. A follow-up study demonstrated that the number of people experiencing threatening events fell to the expected level postoperatively and that depression was associated with continued abdominal pain. These findings may be relevant to the understanding of the irritable-bowel syndrome.