Early or delayed surgical removal of appendix in people with symptomatic complicated appendicitis

Review question

What are the risks and benefits of early versus delayed removal of appendix in people with symptomatic complicated appendicitis?

Background

The human appendix is a tube at the connection of the small and the large intestines. Possible functions of the appendix may be to protect the body against infection and to maintain healthy levels bacteria in the gut when recovering from diarrhoea. Appendicitis covers a variety of clinical conditions resulting from inflammation of the appendix.

Complicated appendicitis is defined as appendiceal phlegmon (simple inflammatory mass without pus located in bottom right of the appendix) or appendiceal abscess (pocket of pus surrounding an acutely inflamed and/or ruptured appendix). People with this condition usually need surgical removal of the appendix to relieve their symptoms and avoid complications. The timing of surgical removal of the appendix is controversial. Immediate surgery is technically demanding. Some experts question the appropriateness of delayed appendectomy, as people are unlikely to experience a recurrence after a successful non-surgical treatment. However, the true diagnosis could be uncertain in some cases, and postponing the appendectomy may delay diagnosis of underlying disease.

Study characteristics

We searched for all relevant randomised controlled trials up to 23 August 2016. We identified two trials involving 80 participants. One compared early versus delayed open appendicectomy in 40 children and adults with appendiceal phlegmon. The other trial compared early versus delayed keyhole (laparoscopic) appendicectomy (where surgery is performed through a very small incision) in 40 children with appendiceal abscess. Studies took place in the USA and India. The age of the individuals in the trials varied between 1 year and 84 years, and 27.5% were females.

Key results

Both two studies were small and had a number of limitations so we cannot be certain about how the effects of the two surgical approaches compare. From one trial in children and adults comparing open with delayed appendicectomy, there was insufficient evidence to show the effect of using either approach on the overall complication rate or the proportion of participants who developed wound infection. Our certainty in a longer stay in hospital stay and time away from normal activities with open appendicectomy is very low. There were no deaths in the study. Quality of life, and pain were not reported in this trial.

The other trial in children with appendiceal abscess receiving either early or delayed keyhole appendicectomy did not report on overall complication rates. The trial did not provide enough evidence to show the effect of using either approach on the length of hospital stay among participants. We have very low certainty that children who had early keyhole appendicectomy had better quality of life compared with children who had delayed keyhole appendicectomy. The study did not report if there were any deaths, and did not provide information on pain, or time away from normal activities.

At present the benefits and harms of early versus delayed appendicectomy are not well understood because the current information is based upon very low quality evidence.

Quality of the evidence

Both trials were at a high risk of bias. Overall, we judged the quality of the evidence to be very low. Thus, further well-designed trials are urgently needed.

Authors' conclusions: 

It is unclear whether early appendicectomy prevents complications compared to delayed appendicectomy for people with appendiceal phlegmon or abscess. The evidence indicating increased length of hospital stay and time away from normal activities in people with early open appendicectomy is of very low quality. The evidence for better health-related quality of life following early laparoscopic appendicectomy compared with delayed appendicectomy is based on very low quality evidence. For both comparisons addressed in this review, data are sparse, and we cannot rule out significant benefits or harms of early versus delayed appendicectomy.

Further trials on this topic are urgently needed and should specify a set of criteria for use of antibiotics, percutaneous drainage of the appendiceal abscess prior to surgery and resolution of the appendiceal phlegmon or abscess. Future trials should include outcomes such as time away from normal activities, quality of life and the length of hospital stay.

Read the full abstract...
Background: 

Appendiceal phlegmon and abscess account for 2% to 10% of acute appendicitis. People with appendiceal phlegmon or abscess usually need an appendicectomy to relieve their symptoms and avoid complications. The timing of appendicectomy for appendiceal phlegmon or abscess is controversial.

Objectives: 

To assess the effects of early versus delayed appendicectomy for appendiceal phlegmon or abscess, in terms of overall morbidity and mortality.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Library (CENTRAL; 2016, Issue 7), MEDLINE Ovid (1950 to 23 August 2016), Embase Ovid (1974 to 23 August 2016), Science Citation Index Expanded (1900 to 23 August 2016), and the Chinese Biomedical Literature Database (CBM) (1978 to 23 August 2016). We also searched the World Health Organization (WHO) International Clinical Trials Registry Platform search portal (23 August 2016) and ClinicalTrials.gov (23 August 2016) for ongoing trials.

Selection criteria: 

We included all individual and cluster-randomised controlled trials, irrespective of language, publication status, or age of participants, comparing early versus delayed appendicectomy in people with appendiceal phlegmon or abscess.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently identified the trials for inclusion, collected the data, and assessed the risk of bias. We performed meta-analyses using Review Manager 5. We calculated the risk ratio (RR) for dichotomous outcomes and the mean difference (MD) for continuous outcomes with 95% confidence intervals (CI).

Main results: 

We included two randomised controlled trials with a total of 80 participants in this review.

1. Early versus delayed open appendicectomy for appendiceal phlegmon

Forty participants (paediatric and adults) with appendiceal phlegmon were randomised either to early appendicectomy (appendicectomy as soon as appendiceal mass resolved within the same admission) (n = 20), or to delayed appendicectomy (initial conservative treatment followed by interval appendicectomy six weeks later) (n = 20). The trial was at high risk of bias. There was no mortality in either group. There is insufficient evidence to determine the effect of using either early or delayed open appendicectomy onoverall morbidity (RR 13.00; 95% CI 0.78 to 216.39; very low-quality evidence), the proportion of participants who developed wound infection (RR 9.00; 95% CI 0.52 to 156.91; very low quality evidence) or faecal fistula (RR 3.00; 95% CI 0.13 to 69.52; very low quality evidence). The quality of evidence for increased length of hospital stay and time away from normal activities in the early appendicectomy group (MD 6.70 days; 95% CI 2.76 to 10.64, and MD 5.00 days; 95% CI 1.52 to 8.48, respectively) is very low quality evidence. The trial reported neither quality of life nor pain outcomes.

2. Early versus delayed laparoscopic appendicectomy for appendiceal abscess

Forty paediatric participants with appendiceal abscess were randomised either to early appendicectomy (emergent laparoscopic appendicectomy) (n = 20) or to delayed appendicectomy (initial conservative treatment followed by interval laparoscopic appendicectomy 10 weeks later) (n = 20). The trial was at high risk of bias. The trial did not report on overall morbidity or complications. There was no mortality in either group. We do not have sufficient evidence to determine the effects of using either early or delayed laparoscopic appendicectomy for outcomes relating to hospital stay between the groups (MD −0.20 days; 95% CI −3.54 to 3.14; very low quality of evidence). Health-related quality of life was measured with the Pediatric Quality of Life Scale-Version 4.0 questionnaire (a scale of 0 to 100 with higher values indicating a better quality of life). Health-related quality of life score measured at 12 weeks after appendicectomy was higher in the early appendicectomy group than in the delayed appendicectomy group (MD 12.40 points; 95% CI 9.78 to 15.02) but the quality of evidence was very low. This trial reported neither the pain nor the time away from normal activities.

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