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Diagnostic accuracy of a pragmatic, ultrasound-based approach to adult patients with suspected acute appendicitis in the ED
  1. Beat Lehmann,
  2. Ursina Koeferli,
  3. Thomas C Sauter,
  4. Aristomenis Exadaktylos,
  5. Wolf E Hautz
  1. Department of Emergency Medicine, Inselspital University Hospital Bern, Bern, Switzerland
  1. Correspondence to Dr Beat Lehmann, Emergency Medicine, Inselspital University Hospital Bern, Bern 3010, Switzerland; beat.lehmann{at}


Background Systematic imaging reduces the rate of missed appendicitis and negative appendectomies in patients with suspected acute appendicitis (AA). Little is known about the utility of ultrasound as a first diagnostic measure in patients with suspected AA. The aim of this retrospective study is to determine whether ultrasound, performed by emergency physicians or radiologists, can be used as first diagnostic measure in suspected cases to rule out AA and to avoid unnecessary CT.

Methods We performed a retrospective analysis at the ED of the University Hospital Bern, Switzerland, from 2012 to 2014. Our standard protocol is that all adult patients suspected of appendicitis receive an ultrasound as their first imaging test, either by an emergency physician or a radiologist. The test characteristics of conclusive and inconclusive ultrasound exams were compared with a pragmatic gold standard.

Results The study included 508 patients with suspected AA. 308 patients (60.4%) had a conclusive ultrasound. Among these, sensitivity for appendicitis was 89.6% (95% CI 82.1% to 94.3%), specificity 93.8% (89.1% to 96.6%), the positive predictive value was 87.98 (80.84 to 92.71) and the negative predictive value was 94.65 (91.18 to 96.80). The remaining 200 (39.4%) patients had an inconclusive ultrasound exam. 29% (59/200) of these patients ultimately had appendicitis. Less experienced emergency physician sonographers came to a definitive conclusion in 48.1% (95% CI 36.9% to 59.5%), experienced emergency physician sonographers in 76.0% (68.4% to 82.5%) and radiologists in 52.4% (44.5% to 60.2%).

Conclusion A conclusive ultrasound of the appendix performed by either emergency physicians or radiologists is a sensitive and specific exam to diagnose or exclude AA in patients with suspected AA. Because of 6% false negative exams, clinical follow-up is mandatory for patients with negative ultrasound. An inconclusive ultrasound warrants further imaging or a follow-up visit, since 29% of patients with inconclusive ultrasound had an AA.

  • abdomen
  • diagnosis
  • ultrasonography

Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.

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Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.

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  • Handling editor Simon Carley

  • Contributors All authors significantly contributed to the final manuscript in its present form, including conception and design of the study, drafting of the manuscript and finally approval of the manuscript. BL is the guarantor for the paper.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.