The Impermanence of Non-Operative Appendicitis Management

Novelty is no guarantee of superiority. In the olden days, appendicitis meant: out, damned vestigial worm! In modern times, it gives rise to any number of potential antibiotics-first strategies, under observation or as an outpatient.

But, following resolution of the initial appendicitis symptoms, the appendix persists. And, left to its own devices, the risk of recurrence remains. In the few trials and observational series to date, the risk seems to be on the order of 20-30% at one year.

This study suggests the practical rate outside of controlled trial settings may be even higher. This retrospective review of administrative data from 45 pediatric hospitals examines management and resource utilization relating to appendicitis diagnoses. Over the six year study period, approximately 6% of cases of non-perforated appendicitis were managed non-operatively, a rate that increased 20% over the course of the study period – with most of the increase occurring in the final two years. Compared with those managed operatively, those managed non-operatively had higher rates of advanced imaging (8.9%), Emergency Department visits (11.2%), hospitalizations (43.7%) – and, finally, 46% of those managed non-operatively underwent subsequent appendectomy.

Interestingly, the median time elapsed before subsequent appendectomy was only one day – a result these authors found skewed relating to those who were discharged from the Emergency Department rather than after hospitalization for multiple doses of intravenous antibiotics. These authors also found 14% of those with recurrent appendicitis suffered perforation, a much higher proportion than the ~3% found in previous trials.

It certainly sounds appealing, from a superficial standpoint, to avoid surgery in anyone – least of all children. It is reasonable, however, to suggest the rush to transform practice to elevate non-operative management is unwarranted without better long-term data. Patients may be offered a non-operative management strategy, but only in the context of substantial uncertainty regarding ultimate outcomes, and the non-trivial risk of re-hospitalization for subsequent appendectomy.

“Outcomes of non-operative management of uncomplicated appendicitis”