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Acute Appendicitis: Is There a Difference Between Children and Adults?

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Historically, the lack of classic symptoms and delay in presentation make diagnosing acute appendicitis more difficult in children, resulting in a higher perforation rate. Despite this, the morbidity of acute appendicitis is usually lower in children. We evaluated the current differences in clinical presentation, diagnostic clues, and the outcomes of acute appendicitis between the two age groups. A retrospective review of 210 consecutive cases of pediatric appendectomy and 744 adult cases for suspected acute appendicitis from January 1995 to December 2000. Pediatric patients were defined as being 13 years and younger. Pediatric patients were similar to adult patients with respect to duration of pain before presentation (2.4 ± 4.3 days vs 2.5 ± 7.3 days), number of patients previously evaluated (22.0 vs 17.7%), number of imaging tests (computed tomography or ultrasound; 32.9 vs 40.2%), and number of patients observed (16.7 vs 17.2%). However, pediatric patients required less time for emergency room evaluation (4.0 ± 2.7 hours vs 5.7 ± 4.9 hours, P = 0.0001). In children and adults, a history of classic, migrating pain had the highest positive predictive value (94.2 vs 89.6%), followed by a white blood cell count ≥12 × 109/L (91.5 vs 84.3%). The overall negative appendectomy rate was 10.0 per cent for children and 19.0 per cent for adults (P = 0.003); the perforation rate was 19.0 per cent and 13.8 per cent, respectively (P > 0.05). The perforation rate in children was not associated with a delay in presentation (perforated cases, 2.9 ± 3.3 days compared with nonperforated cases, 2.3 ± 4.6 days). Mortality and morbidity, including wound infection rate and intra-abdominal abscess rate, were similar. Contrary to traditional teaching, diagnosing acute appendicitis in children is similar to that in adults. A history of migratory pain together with physical findings and leukocytosis remain accurate diagnostic clues for children and adults. Perforation rate and morbidity in children is similar to those in adults. The outcomes of acute appendicitis in children are not associated with a delay in presentation or delay in diagnosis.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: From the Department of Surgery, Kaiser Permanente, Los Angeles Medical Center, Los Angeles, California and the Department of Surgery, University of California, Davis School of Medicine, Sacramento, California

Publication date: May 1, 2006

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  • The Southeastern Surgical Congress owns and publishes The American Surgeon monthly. It is the official journal of the Congress and the Southern California Chapter of the American College of Surgeons, which all members receive each month. The journal brings up to date clinical advances in surgical knowledge in a popular reference format. In addition to publishing papers presented at the annual meetings of the associated organizations, the journal publishes selected unsolicited manuscripts. If you have a manuscript you'd like to see published in The American Surgeon select "Information for Authors" from the Related Information options below. A Copyright Release Form must accompany all manuscripts submitted.
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