Acute Appendicitis: Clinical Clues and Conundrums Related to the Greatest Misses


West Florida


Brandon Regional Hospital

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Publication Date



right lower quadrant pain, periumbilical pain, mcburney's, rovsing, psoas, missed, misdiagnosed, acute appendicitis


Digestive System Diseases | Emergency Medicine | Surgery



In the United States (US), appendicitis is the most common acute abdominal emergency requiring surgery. Patients with appendicitis continue to display a complex and atypical range of clinical manifestations, providing a subsequent high risk for emergency physicians to miss acute abdominal pathology on a patient’s initial visits. Due to the risk of potential perforation, the proper and timely clinical identification of acute appendicitis is vital. The current study aims to identify clinical characteristics that could be useful in identifying patients at risk for having acute appendicitis that was misdiagnosed on their initial visits.


Medical charts consisting of patients between the ages of 19 and 55 years on their second visit were flagged and reviewed by the emergency department quality assurance (EDQA) committee. The retrospective chart review included patients who presented to the emergency department (ED) with the chief complaint of an abdominal-related complaint, were discharged, returned within 72 hours, and were diagnosed with a pathologically confirmed appendicitis. All patients were managed operatively, with pathology results reviewed for evidence of acute appendicitis. Those with confirmed pathologic appendicitis upon return were considered to have a “misdiagnosis.” Any patients managed nonoperatively and those with negative pathology were excluded from the study and considered not to have appendicitis.


Fifty-five patients were identified through the EDQA committee from May 2011 to January 2014. After exclusion criteria were applied, 18 patients met the inclusion criteria for this study (7 males, 11 females). The mean age was 36.2 (range: 19-55). The most common presenting complaint on the initial visit was pain in the epigastric region of the abdomen (50%, n = 9). Twenty-two percent (n = 4) of patients had pain in the right lower quadrant documented in the physician’s note on the initial visit and 83% (n = 15) had right lower quadrant pain documented on the second visit. Two patients (11%) did not have right lower quadrant tenderness on either visit. The most common discharge diagnosis on the initial visit was undifferentiated abdominal pain (50%), followed by gastritis (28%). Opioid pain medication was administered or prescribed to 39% (n = 7) of the patients. The average return time was 23.9 hours.


The administration of opioid pain medication is associated with many of the return visits to the emergency department for missed appendicitis. Finally, discharge diagnosis and planning are imperative, as detailed early appendicitis instructions or extended ED observation can include more cases and decrease litigation risk.

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