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Predictive values of indirect ultrasound signs for low risk of acute appendicitis in paediatric patients without visualisation of the appendix on ultrasound


Background and objectives The ability to rule appendicitis in or out using ultrasound is limited by studies where the appendix is not visualised. We determined whether the absence of indirect ultrasound signs can rule out appendicitis in children undergoing a radiology-performed ultrasound in which the appendix is not visualised

Methods This was a single-centre retrospective observational study of patients aged 3–13 with a clinical suspicion of acute appendicitis evaluated in a Paediatric Emergency Department in Spain from 1 January 2013 to 31 December 2019. For those patients who had formal ultrasound, direct and indirect findings of ultrasound were abstracted from the ultrasound report. The surgical pathology report was established as the gold standard in patients who underwent an appendectomy. In those who did not, appendicitis was considered not to be present if there was no evidence in their charts that they had undergone an appendectomy or conservative therapy for appendicitis during the episode. The main outcome variable was the diagnosis of acute appendicitis. For patients undergoing ultrasound, the independent association of each indirect ultrasound sign with the diagnosis of appendicitis in patients without a visualised appendix was analysed using logistic regression.

Results We included 1756 encounters from 1609 different episodes. Median age at the first visit of each episode was 10.1 years (IQR, 7.7–11.9) and 921 (57.2%) patients were men. There were 730 (41.6%) encounters with an Alvarado score ≤3, 695 (39.6%) with a score 4–6 and 331 (18.9%) with a score ≥7. Appendicitis was diagnosed in 293 (17.8%) episodes. Ultrasonography was performed in 1115 (61.6%) encounters, with a visualised appendix in 592 (53.1%).

The ultrasound findings independently associated with appendicitis in patients without a visualised appendix were the presence of free intra-abdominal fluid in a small quantity (OR:5.0 (95% CI 1.7 to 14.6)) or in an abundant quantity (OR:30.9 (95% CI 3.8 to 252.7)) and inflammation of the peri-appendiceal fat (OR:7.2 (95% CI 1.4 to 38.0)). The absence of free fluid and inflammation of the peri-appendiceal fat ruled out acute appendicitis in patients with an Alvarado score <7 with a sensitivity of 84.6% (95% CI 57.8 to 95.7) and a negative predictive value of 99.4% (95% CI 97.8 to 99.8).

Conclusions Patients with an Alvarado score <7 and without a visualised appendix on ultrasound but who lack free fluid and inflammation of the peri-appendiceal fat are at very low risk of acute appendicitis.

  • pediatric emergency medicine
  • ultrasonography
  • Observational Study
  • Diagnostic Techniques and Procedures

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request.

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