Objective: The diagnosis of acute appendicitis in pregnant women often is difficult to make on the basis of clinical findings, and radiologic examination is limited because of the potentially hazardous effects of radiation. This study was done to assess the value of sonography in the diagnosis of acute appendicitis in pregnant women.
Subjects and methods: We obtained sonograms in 45 pregnant women with clinically suspected acute appendicitis. Our sonographic technique included graded-compression scanning. The left lateral decubitus position was used in the third trimester of gestation. The sonographic criterion for the diagnosis of acute appendicitis was visualization of an incompressible appendix with a maximal diameter greater than 7 mm. We correlated the sonographic findings with the surgical findings in 22 cases and with the results of clinical follow-up in 23 cases.
Results: Sonography could not be used to make the diagnosis in three (7%) of 45 patients because the size of the gravid uterus prevented use of the graded-compression technique. These three patients were in the third trimester of pregnancy (greater than 35 weeks' gestation). Sonographic findings were used as a basis for diagnosis in 42 cases. Acute appendicitis was diagnosed on the basis of sonograms in 16 patients, and in all but one of these patients, acute appendicitis was confirmed by surgical and pathologic findings. In the 42 cases in which the imaging findings indicated the diagnosis, the overall sensitivity of sonography was 100%, the specificity was 96%, and the accuracy was 98%.
Conclusion: Our experience suggests that graded-compression sonography is a valuable procedure for detecting acute appendicitis in pregnant women despite technical difficulty in performing it during the third trimester of pregnancy.