A retrospective study from California claims that the nonoperative management of simple appendicitis may be safe and is worth studying further.
Why am I not convinced? Because every time this subject comes up, the paper purporting to show that antibiotics are superior or even equal to surgical treatment is flawed. The trend continues with the current paper du jour which appears online in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.
This study looked at the records of over 231,000 patients with uncomplicated appendicitis during the years 1997 to 2008. Only 3236 (1.5%) of those patients were treated non-operatively, and 10.3% of them had either a failure of antibiotic treatment or a recurrence of appendicitis during follow-up with 3 percent of those having perforations. Mortality rates were very low (appendectomy 0.1%, antibiotics 0.3%) and not significantly different, and hospital charges were similar in the groups matched with propensity scoring. Length of stay was significantly longer for those treated with antibiotics 3.2 days vs. 2.1 days, p < 0.001.
Sounds great, right?
I will not go into detail about the some of the important problems with this paper such as the fact that before the statistical manipulation with propensity scoring, the baseline characteristics of the patients in both groups were significantly different in all but one category. In table 1 of the paper, the number of patients available for follow-up was exactly the same as the number entering the study. That means that not a single patient was lost to follow-up, which is hard to believe since people occasionally move out of state. The reasons that patients did not undergo appendectomy could not be determined from the administrative database used.
Here are the key issues.