Acute Appendicitis in Pediatric Patients: An Evidence-Based Review -

Acute Appendicitis in Pediatric Patients: An Evidence-Based Review
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Publication Date: September 2019 (Volume 16, Number 9)

No CME for this activity


Callie Becker, MD
Assistant Professor, Division of Emergency Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital, Minneapolis, MN
Anupam Kharbanda, MD, MS
Chief, Critical Care Services, Children's Hospital Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN

Peer Reviewers

Ran D. Goldman, MD
Professor of Pediatrics, University of British Columbia, Head, Division of Clinical Pharmacology, Emergency Physician, Division of Emergency Medicine, BC Children’s Hospital, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Kristy Williamson, MD
Attending Physician, Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center, New Hyde Park, NY


Appendicitis is the most common condition in children requiring emergency abdominal surgery. Delayed or missed diagnosis in young children is common and is associated with increased rates of perforation. Although several scoring systems have been developed, there is still no consensus on clinical, laboratory, and imaging criteria for diagnosing appendicitis. This issue reviews key age-based historical and physical examination findings, as well as clinical scoring systems, that can help guide the workup of appendicitis in children. The existing literature is reviewed to provide guidance for the management of children with appendicitis, including recommendations for diagnostic studies, prophylactic antibiotics, pain medication, and surgical consultation.

Excerpt From This Issue

An 11-year-old previously healthy boy presents to the ED on a busy Saturday evening. He has acute abdominal pain that started 18 hours ago as diffuse periumbilical abdominal pain. Within the last 3 hours or so, the pain migrated to the right lower quadrant and worsened in severity. The child says the bumps on the car ride to the hospital were painful, and hopping up and down makes the pain worse. He says it seems to be a bit better when he lies still and does not move. Oral ibuprofen has not really helped the pain. The patient has not eaten a meal all day and has vomited 3 times today. On presentation, he has a temperature of 38.3°C (101°F). He is fully immunized and does not have any upper respiratory symptoms. He has never had similar pain in the past and has no history of previous abdominal surgeries. He has a normal genitourinary examination. He has obvious discomfort with palpation of his abdomen with maximum tenderness in the right lower quadrant. He exhibits guarding and rebound tenderness. His mother asks you whether this could be appendicitis, and whether he will need surgery. You begin to think… Is this appendicitis? What else could it be? How will you definitively determine the diagnosis? What laboratory evaluation and imaging tests should you order? It is now 2:00 AM. If the patient definitely has appendicitis, does he need an emergent appendectomy or can it wait?

Your next patient is a 16-year-old girl with abdominal pain who is brought into the ED by her mother. When the girl arrived to the ED, her vital signs were age-appropriate except for tachycardia, with a heart rate of 115 beats/min. Initially, she had some mild pain in her lower abdomen that gradually got worse. What is your differential diagnosis? What history, physical examination findings, or diagnostic evaluations should you obtain?

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