Computed tomography and ultrasonography do not improve and may delay the diagnosis and treatment of acute appendicitis

S. L. Lee, A. J. Walsh, Hung S Ho, W. H. Schwesinger, J. L. Grosfeld, J. Kuhn, K. W. Millikan, E. T. Peter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

200 Scopus citations


Hypothesis: Computed tomography (CT) and ultrasonography (US) do not improve the overall diagnostic accuracy for acute appendicitis. Design: Retrospective review. Setting: University tertiary care center. Patients: Seven hundred sixty-six consecutive patients undergoing appendectomy for suspected appendicitis from January 1, 1995, to December 31, 1999. Main Outcome Measures: Epidemiology of acute appendicitis and the roles of clinical assessment, CT, US, and laparoscopy. Results: The negative appendectomy rate was 15.7%, and the incidence of perforated appendicitis was 14.6%. A history of migratory pain had the highest positive predictive value (91%), followed by leukocytosis greater than 12 × 109/L (90.1%), CT (83.8%), and US (81.3%). The false-negative rates were 60% for CT and 76.1% for US. Emergency department evaluation took a mean±SD of 5.2±5.4 hours and was prolonged by US or CT (6.4±7.4 h and 7.8±10.8 h, respectively). The duration of emergency department evaluation did not affect the perforation rate, but patients with postoperative complications had longer evaluations (mean±SD, 8.0±12.7 h) than did those without (4.8±3.3 h) (P=.04). Morbidity was 9.1%, 6.4% for nonperforated cases and 19.8% for perforated cases. Seventy-six patients had laparoscopic appendectomy, with a negative appendectomy rate of 42.1%, compared with 15.4% for open appendectomy (P<.001). Laparoscopy, however, had minimal morbidity (1.3%) and correctly identified the abnormality in 91.6% of patients who had a normal-appearing appendix. Conclusions: Migratory pain, physical examination, and initial leukocytosis remain reliable and accurate in diagnosing acute appendicitis. Neither CT nor US improves the diagnostic accuracy or the negative appendectomy rate; in fact, they may delay surgical consultation and appendectomy. In atypical cases, one should consider the selective use of diagnostic laparoscopy instead.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)556-562
Number of pages7
JournalArchives of Surgery
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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