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Weledji, Emergency Med 2015, 6:1

Emergency Medicine: http://dx.doi.org/10.4172/2165-7548.1000301

Open Access
Case Report Open Access

Dilemma of Acute Appendicitis

Elroy Patrick Weledji*
Department of Surgery and Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Buea, Cameroon

Acute appendicitis is one of a relatively dwindling number of conditions in which a decision to operate may be
based solely on clinical findings. Regular re-assessment of patients and making use of the investigative options
available will meet the standard of care expected by patients with acute abdominal pain. In this chapter, the greater
importance of history and examination over investigations in the early diagnosis of acute appendicitis is emphasized.
The ability to identify the presence of peritoneal inflammation probably has the greatest influence on the final surgical

Keywords: Acute appendicitis; Assessment; Differential diagnosis; a swinging pyrexia and point tenderness on rectal examination. Sub-
Management acute obstruction may occur in the elderly and the appendix mass may
be confused with a caecal carcinoma, Crohn’s disease, tuberculosis,
Introduction or an ovarian tumour. If the history is atypical in anyway a contrast
Acute appendicitis is the most common cause of the acute abdomen CT scan or a small bowel study is necessary. However, a mass is often
requiring surgery with life time risk of ~7% which is maximal in childhood detected only after the patient has been anaesthesized and paralysed.
and declines steadily with age as the lymphoid tissue and vascularity Thus, the differentiation of a phlegmonous mass from an abscess is
atrophy [1,2]. Surgery for the acute abdomen caused by Appendicitis not a practical problem because surgery is the correct management
only evolved when the mortality associated with perforated appendicitis for both. Such a policy renders any debate on interval appendicectomy
was found to be high. Conservative treatment with later drainage of redundant [3]. The operation which may be an appendicectomy, an
any abscess had been the standard and diffuse peritonitis was usually ileo-caecal resection or a hemicolectomy if indicated during the first
fatal. Although only few patients progressed to the potentially lethal admission is expeditious and safe, provided steps are taken to minimize
complications, early surgery for all patients with suspected appendicitis postoperative sepsis [2,3,11]. The serious consequences of missing a
became the definitive method of preventing severe peritoneal sepsis carcinoma in the elderly patient are abolished.
[2-4]. Although a study demonstrated that simple appendicitis may be Clinical assessment
treated with antibiotics only, there is a 25% risk of recurrent attacks [4].
Even though recent advances in interventional radiological techniques Just as appendicitis should be considered in any patient with
for peritonitis have significantly reduced the morbidity and mortality of abdominal pain, virtually every other abdominal emergency can be
physiologically severe complicated abdominal infection, the best policy considered in the differential diagnosis of suspected appendicitis. Clues
is early surgery when there is clinical suspicion of the acute abdomen to the differential diagnosis include recent sore throat (mesenteric
and if diagnostic tools are not readily available [5]. The mortality of adenitis), previous episode (Crohn’s disease), weight loss (Crohn’s
perforated viscous increases with delay in diagnosis and management disease, caecal carcinoma), dyspepsia (cholecystitis, perforated ulcer),
and it is greatest in the elderly (25% when age >70 years) and those ill arthralgia (Yersinia enterocolitica, Crohn’s disease), vaginal discharge
from intercurrent disease with a poor performance status (American (salpingitis), mid-menstrual cycle (ruptured follicular cyst), frequency
Society of Anesthesiology -ASA score) [2,6-9]. ( urinary tract infection), preserved appetite (non-specific, or
gynaecological) and Asian origin (ileo-caecal tuberculosis) [3]. In acute
Natural History appendicitis the point of maximum tenderness (McBurney’s point)
usually lies one third along a line from the anterior superior iliac spine
The natural history of acute appendicitis left untreated is that it
to the umbilicus which denotes the surface anatomy of the appendix.
will either resolve spontaneously by host defences, or progress to a fatal
This is associated with guarding of the inflamed area from being
suppurative necrosis (gangrene) with perforation. The appendicular
prodded further [2,12,13]. Although not of diagnostic value as being
artery is a single end artery closely applied to the wall distally, and
nonspecific, pressure in the left iliac fossa produces pain in the right
secondary thrombosis is common giving rise to gangrene which
iliac fossa (Rovsing’s sign) [14]. Occasionally, patients with appendicitis
explains the short progressive history (3-5 days) of appendicitis and
have signs of widespread peritonitis, which obscure the area of maximal
the poorer prognosis with the artherosclerosis of the aged. The classical
tenderness. Re-examination, after resuscitation and adequate analgesia,
presentation of referred, dull, poorly localized, colicky periumbilical
permits more reliable localization of signs [2,3,13,14]. The appendix
pain (visceral) from the luminal obstruction (mid-gut origin) for 12-24
hrs that shifts and localizes to the right iliac fossa as peritoneal irritation
by the inflamed appendix occurs (somatic pain) is most common in
adolescents. There is nausea but vomiting more than twice is rare. A
*Corresponding author: Elroy P Weledji, P.O. Box 126, Limbe, S. W. Region,
low grade pyrexia and constipation is usual [2]. An alternative outcome Cameroon, Africa, Tel: +699922144; E-mail: elroypat@yahoo.co.uk
is that the appendix becomes surrounded by a mass of omentum or
Received November 02, 2015; Accepted Decemberr 15, 2015; Published
adjacent viscera which walls off the inflammatory process and prevents
December 22, 2015
inflammation spreading to the abdominal cavity yet resolution of the
condition is delayed (appendix mass). Such a patient usually presents Citation: Weledji EP (2015) Dilemma of Acute Appendicitis. Emergency Med 6:
301. doi:10.4172/2165-7548.1000301
with a longer history (a week or more) of right lower quadrant abdominal
pain, appears systemically well and has a tender palpable mass in the Copyright: © 2015 Weledji EP, et al. This is an open-access article distributed
under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits
right iliac fossa. Conservative management risks a 30% recurrence of unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
acute inflammation [3,8,10]. An appendix abscess is distinguished by original author and source are credited.

Emergency Med Volume 6 • Issue 1 • 1000301

ISSN: 2165-7548 EGM, an open access journal
Citation: Weledji EP (2015) Dilemma of Acute Appendicitis. Emergency Med 6: 301. doi:10.4172/2165-7548.1000301

Page 2 of 4

can occasionally be in different positions within the abdomen and can Criteria Score
lead to the pain localizing in more unusual places which may lead to a Migration of pain 1
delay in diagnosis. A retrocaecal appendix can give rise to tenderness in Anorexia 1
the right upper quadrant whereas a pelvic appendix may be associated Nausea or vomiting 1
with central abdominal discomfort. Abdominal rigidity may be absent Tender right lower quadrant 2
when the appendix is retrocaecal or pelvic, and in obese or elderly Rebound tenderness 1
patients. Passive extension or hyperextension of the hip increases the Temperature 1
abdominal pain due to an inflamed appendix lying on the psoas muscle Leukocytosis 2
(Psoas stretch test). The obturator sign is positive when passive internal Shifted white blood cell 1
rotation of the hip aggravates the pain of an inflamed appendix lying on
the obturator internus, but, an ovarian pathology may do same [2,3,15]. Total 10
Left- sided appendicitis is a rare and atypical presentation associated Table 1: Alvarado scoring system [19].
with congenital mid-gut malrotation, situs invertus or an abnormally
long appendix [16]. The apex beat of the heart on the right side will elderly. A white cell count is usually elevated but a normal white cell
betray the diagnosis if there is associated dextro-cardia. When rebound count especially in the elderly does not exclude appendicitis [19,20]. The
tenderness is detected in the lower abdomen further examination by appendicolith, a radio-opaque concretion located within the appendix,
rectal examination has been shown to provide no new information. which is deemed to be the most specific finding of appendicitis on plain
Rectal examination is reserved for those patients without rebound radiographs, is visualized in only 5%-15% of patients with appendicitis
tenderness or where specific pelvic disease needs to be excluded. It [21]. Ultrasonography in expert hands is perhaps the most useful
is of little value in the diagnosis of acute appendicitis even when the investigation [2,3,21]. Although computed tomography (CT) scan
organ lies in the pelvis [17]. The demonstration and interpretation of is superior to ultrasound (US) scan, the risk of radiation-induced
these physical signs are skills which fade without practice. The age, malignancy renders it not of particular use in paediatric patients [21].
sex and personality of the patient are important modifiers of clinical Laparoscopy is essentially an operation rather than an investigation.
signs; the most typical cases occur in older children (5-15 yrs) of either However, the continuing development of ultrasound techniques and
sex and in young males with poor dietary fibre being a risk factor. In laparoscopic surgery have both prompted the view that the proportion
other individuals, the features are more obscure, and the potential of normal appendices removed (20%) is unacceptably high [22].
for alternative pathology is greater [2,3]. It is, however, not possible Although it is early advantageous to spare patients unnecessary surgery,
to practice fully the ideal management of early diagnosis and surgery the morbidity and mortality of failing to diagnose appendicitis until
for the acute abdomen, thus reducing morbidity and mortality to zero, perforation has occurred is greater than that associated with removal of
because patients and the disease are variable [11]. Nevertheless, because normal appendix [2,3].
infection, inadequate tissue perfusion and a persistent inflammatory If diagnostic tools not readily available
state are the most important risk factors for development of multiple
organ failure it seems logical that initial therapeutic efforts should be The best policy is early surgery when there is clinical suspicion
directed at their early treatment or prevention (early goal-directed of acute appendicitis. If the appendix is macroscopically normal,
therapy). The risk of portal pyaemia from septic emboli is also decreased the terminal 60cm of ileum must be delivered to exclude a Meckel’s
[10]. It is important to recognize the features of the acute abdomen diverticulitis, terminal ileitis (Yersinia, Crohn’s) and mesenteric adenitis.
which would indicate the need for resuscitation in the high dependency If the base of the appendix and caecum are healthy, the appendix must
or intensive care unit [11]. The attitude of the patient with advanced be removed when ileitis is present [2,3]. Biopsy and culture of inflamed
peritonitis is best described by Hippocrates (460-370 B.C.) as one nodes aids a diagnosis of Yersinia infection. The right ovary and tube
with a ‘sharp nose, hollow eyes, collapsed temples, the ears cold’ now must be visualized. Extension of the incision, a head down tilt and
known as the Hippocratic facies. The patient is usually ill and clammy, adequate retraction may be required. Occasionally, fluid leaking from
hypotensive with a rapid thready pulse. The patient will lie perfectly still a perforated peptic ulcer down the right paracolic gutter produces
to minimize discomfort, the abdomen held totally rigid as the patient clinical findings resembling those of acute appendicitis. A classical
takes rapid shallow breaths using chest movements only [18]. appendicectomy incision would reveal bile-staining free peritoneal fluid
and a second upper abdominal incision is usually required. Purulent
Any role for the Alvarado score? fluid tracking down the right paracolic gutter may also suggest acute
The Alvarado score was designed more than two decades ago as cholecystitis. If clinical diagnosis is equivocal despite investigations, it
a diagnostic score using the clinical features of acute appendicitis for is best to begin with a low midline incision which could be extended if
subsequent clinical management but the appropriateness for its routine there is evidence of a perforated peptic ulcer [2,23].
clinical use is still unclear (Table 1) [19]. A recent meta-analysis showed The diagnostic dilemma
its positive role in ‘ruling out’ appendicitis but not in ‘ruling in’ the
diagnosis without surgical assessment and further diagnostic testing. Chronic appendicitis or “the grumbling appendix”: Patients with
It is inconsistent in children and over predicts the probability of acute true relapsing or chronic appendicitis are rare and often difficult to
appendicitis in women [20]. Alvarado scoring may be valuable in low- diagnose as the symptoms may be atypical and short-lived. In genuine
resource or primary care centres where imaging is not an option. cases the macroscopic appearance of the appendix is abnormal and,
thus the diagnosis is best established by laparoscopy, following which
Any role for special investigations in appendicitis? the appendix can be removed [22]. Minor frequent episodes of right
There are no special investigations to confirm appendicitis. As no iliac fossa pain “the grumbling appendix” can be caused by thread
test is accurate, the diagnosis has to rely on clinical symptoms and signs worms in the appendix or by some conditions other than the appendix.
[2,3,18]. Tests should serve as adjuncts to clinical diagnosis and may Chronic pain with evidence of organic disease (weight loss, elevated
help to exclude alternative diagnoses especially in the female or the ESR) is usually due to Crohn’s disease at any age, caecal carcinoma in
the elderly or lymphoma or tuberculosis in endemic areas [2,22,23].

Emergency Med Volume 6 • Issue 1 • 1000301

ISSN: 2165-7548 EGM, an open access journal
Citation: Weledji EP (2015) Dilemma of Acute Appendicitis. Emergency Med 6: 301. doi:10.4172/2165-7548.1000301

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Pain without signs or abnormal investigations is likely to be due to rate. Appendicectomy and colectomy are the commonest abdominal
irritable bowel syndrome, but small bowel studies are still warranted if operations in AIDS patients [31]. Being an extranodal lymphoid
pain persists, to exclude more unusual causes [3]. organ appendicitis could be the only initial indication of a lymphoma
or lymphadenopathy from myocobacterium avium interacellulare
The young woman: It is not surprising that women have the highest
obstructing the appendiceal ostium. Thus appendicectomy specimens
appendicectomy rate with 30% revealing normal appendices [16,24]. In
should routinely be examined histologically [32]. With careful patient
young women, various gynaecological conditions present with lower
selection, emergency laparotomy confers worthwhile palliation
abdominal pain, and the history gives important clues. Vaginal discharge,
[30,31,33]. However, some patients (and their families) refuse surgery
a longer history (often more than 72 hrs) and absence of gastrointestinal
in desperate situations (such as bowel perforation) as they want an end
upset raise the possibility of pelvic inflammatory disease. A bilateral,
to the suffering [31,33].
low distribution of pain aggravated by cervical movement support the
diagnosis [24]. Abrupt onset of pain suggests rupture of a follicle, cyst or Conclusions
ectopic gestation [25]. The condition of Curtis- Fitz- Hugh syndrome,
when transperitoneal spread of pelvic inflammatory disease produces A precise history of the acute abdomen may indicate the pathology
right upper quadrant pain due to perihepatic adhesions is now well and physical examination may indicate where the pathology is.
recognized and care must be taken to distinguish this from acute However, the ability to identify the presence of peritoneal inflammation
biliary conditions [25]. Early recognition with diagnostic laparoscopy probably has the greatest influence on the final surgical decision. The
and appropriate treatment of pelvic inflammatory disease may help to best policy is early surgery when there is clinical suspicion of the acute
avoid potentially serious longer term sequelae and must be encouraged. appendicitis if diagnostic tools are not readily available, but ‘active obs
Many studies have now demonstrated that laparoscopy significantly
improves surgical decision- making in patients with acute abdominal
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Emergency Med Volume 6 • Issue 1 • 1000301

ISSN: 2165-7548 EGM, an open access journal
Citation: Weledji EP (2015) Dilemma of Acute Appendicitis. Emergency Med 6: 301. doi:10.4172/2165-7548.1000301

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