Introduction: Acute appendicitis is the most common abdominal emergency requiring emergency surgery. However, the diagnosis is often challenging and the decision to operate, observe or further work-up a patient is often unclear. The utility of clinical scoring systems (namely the Alvarado score), laboratory markers, and the development of novel markers in the diagnosis of appendicitis remains controversial. This article presents an update on the diagnostic approach to appendicitis through an evidence-based review.
Methods: We performed a broad Medline search of radiological imaging, the Alvarado score, common laboratory markers, and novel markers in patients with suspected appendicitis.
Results: Computed tomography (CT) is the most accurate mode of imaging for suspected cases of appendicitis, but the associated increase in radiation exposure is problematic. The Alvarado score is a clinical scoring system that is used to predict the likelihood of appendicitis based on signs, symptoms and laboratory data. It can help risk stratify patients with suspected appendicitis and potentially decrease the use of CT imaging in patients with certain Alvarado scores. White blood cell (WBC), C-reactive protein (CRP), granulocyte count and proportion of polymorphonuclear (PMN) cells are frequently elevated in patients with appendicitis, but are insufficient on their own as a diagnostic modality. When multiple markers are used in combination their diagnostic utility is greatly increased. Several novel markers have been proposed to aid in the diagnosis of appendicitis; however, while promising, most are only in the preliminary stages of being studied.
Conclusion: While CT is the most accurate mode of imaging in suspected appendicitis, the accompanying radiation is a concern. Ultrasound may help in the diagnosis while decreasing the need for CT in certain circumstances. The Alvarado Score has good diagnostic utility at specific cutoff points. Laboratory markers have very limited diagnostic utility on their own but show promise when used in combination. Further studies are warranted for laboratory markers in combination and to validate potential novel markers.