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

Arch Surg. 2001 May;136(5):556-62. doi: 10.1001/archsurg.136.5.556.


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 x 10(9)/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.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Appendectomy / methods
  • Appendicitis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Appendicitis / surgery
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Laparoscopy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Ultrasonography