Acute appendicitis: Is there a difference between children and adults?

Steven L. Lee, Hung S. Ho

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


Historically, the lack of classic symptoms and delay in presentation make diagnosing acute appendicitis more difficult in children, resulting in a higher perforation rate. Despite this, the morbidity of acute appendicitis is usually lower in children. We evaluated the current differences in clinical presentation, diagnostic clues, and the outcomes of acute appendicitis between the two age groups. A retrospective review of 210 consecutive cases of pediatric appendectomy and 744 adult cases for suspected acute appendicitis from January 1995 to December 2000. Pediatric patients were defined as being 13 years and younger. Pediatric patients were similar to adult patients with respect to duration of pain before presentation (2.4 ± 4.3 days vs 2.5 ± 7.3 days), number of patients previously evaluated (22.0 vs 17.7%), number of imaging tests (computed tomography or ultrasound; 32.9 vs 40.2%), and number of patients observed (16.7 vs 17.2%). However, pediatric patients required less time for emergency room evaluation (4.0 ± 2.7 hours vs 5.7 ± 4.9 hours, P = 0.0001). In children and adults, a history of classic, migrating pain had the highest positive predictive value (94.2 vs 89.6%), followed by a white blood cell count ≥12 × 109/L (91.5 vs 84.3%). The overall negative appendectomy rate was 10.0 per cent for children and 19.0 per cent for adults (P = 0.003); the perforation rate was 19.0 per cent and 13.8 per cent, respectively (P > 0.05). The perforation rate in children was not associated with a delay in presentation (perforated cases, 2.9 ± 3.3 days compared with nonperforated cases, 2.3 ± 4.6 days). Mortality and morbidity, including wound infection rate and intra-abdominal abscess rate, were similar. Contrary to traditional teaching, diagnosing acute appendicitis in children is similar to that in adults. A history of migratory pain together with physical findings and leukocytosis remain accurate diagnostic clues for children and adults. Perforation rate and morbidity in children is similar to those in adults. The outcomes of acute appendicitis in children are not associated with a delay in presentation or delay in diagnosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)409-413
Number of pages5
JournalAmerican Surgeon
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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