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Five-year follow-up confirms safety of antibiotics for uncomplicated appendicitis

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Protocols now needed for appendicitis antibiotic therapy

“When the earlier results of the APPAC trial were published, showing that 73% of patients with uncomplicated acute appendicitis did not require surgery at 1 year of follow-up, critics raised concerns that many more of these patients would eventually require surgery,” wrote Edward H. Livingston, MD, deputy editor of JAMA in an accompanying editorial (JAMA 2018;320:1245-46).Surgeons have since been waiting until longer-term outcomes were known. These 5-year results are supportive of the antibiotics approach. “They show no increase in major complications in patients who experienced a recurrence and underwent appendectomy after initially being randomized to antibiotic therapy. They challenge the notion that uncomplicated acute appendicitis is a surgical emergency and show that nonsurgical treatment is a reasonable option,” Dr Livingston wrote.

He declared no conflicts of interest.



Longer-term outcomes of treating uncomplicated acute appendicitis with antibiotics suggest it is a feasible alternative to appendectomy.

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Researchers have presented the 5-year follow-up data from the Appendicitis Acuta (APPAC) multicenter randomized clinical trial comparing appendectomy with antibiotic therapy in 530 patients.

They found that 39.1% (100) of the 257 patients randomized to antibiotic therapy – 3 days of intravenous ertapenem followed by 7 days of oral levofloxacin and metronidazole – experienced a recurrence of appendicitis within 5 years and subsequently had surgery.

However the authors noted that seven of these patients were later found not to have appendicitis, so the true success rate for antibiotic treatment was actually 63.7%.

Seventy of the patients who experienced a recurrence underwent surgery in the first year after randomization, 17 in the second year, 3 in the third year, 5 in the fourth year, and the remaining 5 patients in the fifth year, the authors wrote in an article published in JAMA.

However the overall complication rate was similar in patients who were randomized to undergo appendectomy and in those who were initially randomized to the antibiotic group but later experienced a recurrence and underwent surgery.

“No patient initially treated with antibiotics, who ultimately developed recurrent appendicitis, had any complications related to the delay in surgery,” wrote Paulina Salminen, MD, from Turku (Finland) University Hospital and coauthors. “Nearly two-thirds of all patients who initially presented with uncomplicated appendicitis were successfully treated with antibiotics alone, and those who ultimately developed recurrent disease did not experience any adverse outcomes related to the delay in appendectomy.”

Of the 100 patients randomized to antibiotics who underwent appendectomy after a recurrence, 15 were operated on when they were first hospitalized at study admission.

The authors commented that the study design allowed for surgeons to exercise their clinical judgment in choosing when to perform an appendectomy on patients in the antibiotic group, because antibiotics alone was not considered acceptable treatment for appendicitis.

“This led to some patients undergoing appendectomy who did not have appendicitis or who might have been successfully treated with antibiotics or an another course of antibiotics,” they wrote. “Future studies should investigate protocols for further imaging or antibiotic treatment for patients who develop recurrent appendicitis after they were initially treated with antibiotics.”

In the recurrence group, the majority were found to have uncomplicated appendicitis, but complicated appendicitis was seen in two patients between 2 and 5 years after the index admission.

There was a significant 17.9% higher complication rate in the appendectomy group, compared with the antibiotic group – 24.4% versus 6.5% – at 5 years and two patients in the appendectomy group had severe complications requiring reoperation.

They suggested that the higher complication rate with surgery, which was mostly attributable to infections, could be reduced by the use of laparoscopic appendectomy, which is also associated with faster recovery.

The median length of hospital stay was 3 days for both the appendectomy group and the antibiotics-only group, but patients randomized to appendectomy took a median of 22 days of sick leave, compared with 11 days for those randomized to antibiotics (P less than .001).

In the absence of standard protocol on treating appendicitis with antibiotics, the authors noted that they took a conservative approach, using broad-spectrum antibiotics and keeping patients in hospital for 3 days for observation.

“The success of antibiotic treatment for appendicitis calls into question prior beliefs that appendicitis inevitably results in serious intra-abdominal infection if appendectomy is not performed.”

The study was supported by the Mary and Georg C. Ehrnrooth Foundation, the EVO Foundation, and Turku University. One author declared lecture fees from three pharmaceutical companies but no other conflicts of interest were declared.

SOURCE: Salminen P et al. JAMA 2018;320:1259-65. doi: 10.1001/jama.2018.13201.

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