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The impact of diagnostic delay on the course of acute appendicitis
  1. V C Cappendijk,
  2. F W J Hazebroek
  1. Department of Paediatric Surgery, University Hospital Rotterdam—Sophia Children's Hospital, PO Box 2060, 3000 CB Rotterdam, Netherlands
  1. Dr Hazebroek email: hazebroek{at}


BACKGROUND The diagnosis of acute appendicitis is often delayed, which may complicate the further course of the disease.

AIMS To review appendectomy cases in order to determine the incidence of diagnostic delay, the underlying factors, and impact on the course of the disease.

METHODS Records of all children who underwent appendectomy from 1994 to 1997 were reviewed. The 129 cases were divided into group A (diagnostic period within 48 hours) and group B (diagnostic period 48 hours or more).

RESULTS In the group with diagnostic delay, significantly more children had first been referred to a paediatrician rather than to a surgeon. In almost half of the cases in this group initial diagnosis was not appendicitis but gastroenteritis. The perforation rate in group A was 24%, and in group B, 71%. Children under 5 years of age all presented in the delayed group B and had a perforation rate of 82%. The delayed group showed a higher number of postoperative complications and a longer hospitalisation period.

CONCLUSIONS Appendicitis is hard to diagnose when, because of a progressing disease process, the classical clinical picture is absent. The major factor in diagnostic delay is suspected gastroenteritis. Early surgical consultation in a child with deteriorating gastroenteritis is advised. Ultrasonographs can be of major help if abdominal signs and symptoms are non-specific for appendicitis.

  • appendicitis
  • gastroenteritis
  • diagnostic delay
  • non-specific symptoms

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