UMEM Educational Pearls

Acute appendicitis is the most common etiology requiring urgent abdominal surgery in children in the United States. Peak incidence occurs in the second decade of life, with male patients being more commonly affected than female patients. Classic manifestations of appendicitis occur in school-aged children and adolescents, but are often absent in younger children. Infants and young children <5 years are more likely to present with nonspecific or atypical findings, resulting in delays in diagnosis and higher rates of perforation.

Diagnosis is aided by clinical factors, lab findings, and ultrasound (+/- CT or MRI if ultrasound is equivocal).

Historically, the standard of care for acute appendicitis has been urgent operative management. However, in the past several years, there has been increasing literature supporting nonoperative management (antibiotics only) in adult patients with acute uncomplicated appendicitis. Additionally, there is a growing body of evidence demonstrating the safety and efficacy of nonoperative management for uncomplicated appendicitis in children.

Hartford and Woodward provide a review of the current literature on the nonoperative management of uncomplicated appendicitis in children. They conclude:

-       The majority of recent prospective studies demonstrate early treatment success (0-30 days) of approximately 90% in pediatric patients undergoing nonoperative management.

-       Factors associated with failure of nonoperative management in pediatric appendicitis: longer duration of symptoms (>48 hours), younger age (<5 years), and presence of appendicolith.

-       Nonoperative management has been associated with

o   Lower healthcare costs at 1 year

o   Fewer disability days at 1 year

o   No significantly different rate of complicated appendicitis

-       Most trials to date involve a 24-48 hour initial course of broad spectrum IV antibiotics followed by oral antibiotics for a total of >/= 7 days as nonoperative management. Currently, there is no consensus on antibiotic regimen.

Bottom Line: Given the current evidence, nonoperative management may be a viable treatment option for low risk pediatric patients with uncomplicated appendicitis. The literature is not conclusive, thus we as medical providers in conjunction with our surgical colleagues, should consider numerous factors when discussing treatment options for acute appendicitis with patients and their families.


Hartford, E. A. & Woodward, G. A. Appendectomy or Not? An Update on the Evidence for Antibiotics Only Versus Surgery for the Treatment of Acute Appendicitis in Children. Pediatric Emergency Care 36, 6 (2020).


Minneci, P. C. et al. Association of Nonoperative Management Using Antibiotic Therapy vs Laparoscopic Appendectomy With Treatment Success and Disability Days in Children With Uncomplicated Appendicitis. JAMA 324, 581 (2020).


Minneci, P. C. et al. Effectiveness of Patient Choice in Nonoperative vs Surgical Management of Pediatric Uncomplicated Acute Appendicitis. JAMA Surg 151, 408 (2016).