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Antibiotics for Appendicitis an Option for Some

Antibiotics Instead of Surgery Safe for Some, Experts Say; Others Say More Research Needed
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

April 5, 2012 -- Giving some appendicitis patients antibiotics instead of having them undergo surgery can be safe and effective, according to a new analysis.

Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix. This tiny pouch attaches to the beginning of the large intestine.

''We conclude that antibiotic therapy is a safe initial therapy for patients with uncomplicated acute appendicitis," says study researcher Dileep N. Lobo, DM, professor of gastrointestinal surgery at the University of Nottingham in the U.K. Patients who have complications, such as perforation, still need surgical removal of the appendix, Lobo stresses.

However, he says, only about 20% of patients overall have complicated appendicitis when they seek medical help. "Our study suggests that the remaining 80% with uncomplicated appendicitis may be managed, at least initially, with antibiotics, and if their condition improves, they may not need an appendectomy."

In his analysis, antibiotics alone were effective for 63% of patients with uncomplicated appendicitis.

In an accompanying editorial, Olaf Bakker, MD, a surgical resident at the University Medical Centre Utrecht in the Netherlands, argues that more research is needed.

Antibiotics for Appendicitis: Details

Since 1889, doctors have believed that surgical removal of the appendix is best, Lobo writes.

They assumed that the appendix would burst. More recently, some experts have challenged this idea.

Doctors are likely to use CT scans to evaluate whether the appendicitis is likely to progress.

Some recent studies have found fewer problems with antibiotic treatment than surgery when the condition is not complicated.

So Lobo's team evaluated four published studies comparing the approaches. The studies included 900 patients. Of those, 470 got antibiotics and 430 got surgery. Antibiotics were given intravenously and then by mouth.

Their findings:

  • Antibiotics were linked with a 63% success rate at one year. Other patients had to have surgery.
  • Compared to surgery, antibiotic treatment had a 39% reduced risk of complications. This was after excluding those who were started on drugs but later needed surgery.
  • A fifth of those treated with antibiotics had a return of symptoms and went back to the hospital.  Of these, 19% had complicated appendicitis. 
  • The length of hospital stay was not different between the antibiotics and surgery groups.


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