Surgery to remove an inflamed appendix — appendicectomy — has been the mainstay of treatment for acute appendicitis since 1889 and the general assumption is that, without surgery, the risk of complications, such as perforation or infection, is high.
However, recent studies have reported fewer problems with antibiotic therapy than surgery in patients with uncomplicated appendicitis, but results have been inconclusive.
So a team of researchers at the Nottingham Digestive Diseases Centre NIHR Biomedical Research Unit set out to compare the safety and efficacy of antibiotic therapy as an initial treatment for uncomplicated acute appendicitis.
The principal investigator was Dileep Lobo, Professor of Gastrointestinal Surgery at the University of Nottingham and Consultant Surgeon at Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham. The other authors were Dr Krishna Varadhan and Professor Keith Neal.
Reduction in complications
They analysed the results of four randomised controlled trials involving 900 adult patients diagnosed with uncomplicated acute appendicitis. A total of 470 patients received antibiotics and 430 underwent surgery. Differences in study design and quality were taken into account to minimise bias.
Antibiotic therapy was associated with a 63 per cent success rate at one year and a 31 per cent relative reduction in complications compared with surgery.
Even after excluding patients from one study who crossed over from the antibiotic group to the surgery group, a significant (39 per cent) reduction in complications with antibiotic therapy compared with surgery remained.
Of 68 patients treated with antibiotics who were readmitted with recurrence of symptoms, four had normal appendix and 13 had complicated appendicitis. Three patients were treated successfully with another course of antibiotics.
There were no significant differences in either length of hospital stay or risk of developing complicated appendicitis between the two groups of patients.
‘Wait, watch and treat’
The authors argue that the role of antibiotics in acute uncomplicated appendicitis “has been overlooked based mainly on tradition rather than evidence” and they suggest that a careful ‘wait, watch and treat’ policy may be adopted in patients considered to have uncomplicated appendicitis or in whom the diagnosis is uncertain.
However, they stress that for those with clear signs of perforation or peritonitis — inflammation of the abdominal wall — early appendicectomy still remains the ‘gold standard.’
The authors conclude that antibiotic therapy “is a safe initial therapy for patients with uncomplicated acute appendicitis” and that it “merits consideration as a primary treatment option for early uncomplicated appendicitis.” This approach could save up to 65 per cent of patients from having an appendicectomy.
Click to view paper: http://www.bmj.com/cgi/doi/10.1136/bmj.e2156
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More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise. The University’s vision is to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health. The University won a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2011, for its research into global food security.
More information is available from Professor Dileep Lobo, Division of Gastrointestinal Surgery, Nottingham Digestive Diseases Centre NIHR Biomedical Research Unit, Nottingham University Hospitals, Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham, +44 (0)115 823 1149, firstname.lastname@example.org
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