Objective: To study mortality after appendectomy.
Summary background data: The management of patients with suspected appendicitis remains controversial, with advocates of early surgery as well as of expectant management. Mortality is not known.
Methods: The authors conducted a complete follow-up of deaths within 30 days after all appendectomies in Sweden (population 8.9 million) during the years 1987 to 1996 (n = 117,424) by register linkage. The case fatality rate (CFR) and the standardized mortality ratio (SMR) were analyzed by discharge diagnosis.
Results: The CFR was 2.44 per 1,000 appendectomies. It was strongly related to age (0.31 per 1,000 appendectomies at 0-9 years of age, decreasing to 0.07 at 20-29 years, and reaching 164 among nonagenarians) and diagnosis at surgery (0.8 per 1,000 appendectomies after nonperforated appendicitis, 5.1 after perforated appendicitis, 1.9 after appendectomies for nonsurgical abdominal pain, and 10.0 for those with other diagnoses). The SMR showed a sevenfold excess rate of deaths after appendectomy compared with the general population. The relation to age was less marked (SMR of 44.4 at 0-9 years, decreasing to 2.4 in patients aged 20-29 years. and reaching 8.1 in nonagenarians). The SMR was doubled after perforation compared with nonperforated appendicitis (6.5 and 3.5, respectively). Nonsurgical abdominal pain and other diagnoses were associated with a high excess rate of deaths (9.1 and 14.9, respectively). The most common causes of deaths were appendicitis, ischemic heart diseases and tumors, followed by gastrointestinal diseases.
Conclusions: The CFR after appendectomy is high in elderly patients. The excess rate of death for patients with nonperforated appendicitis and nonsurgical abdominal pain suggests that the deaths may partly be caused by the surgical trauma. Increased diagnostic efforts rather than urgent appendectomy are therefore warranted among frail patients with an equivocal diagnosis of appendicitis.