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Flum DR, Davidson GH, Monsell SE, et al. A Randomized Trial Comparing Antibiotics with Appendectomy for Appendicitis. N Engl J Med. 2020 Nov 12;383(20):1907-1919. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa2014320. Epub 2020 Oct 5. (Original study)

BACKGROUND: Antibiotic therapy has been proposed as an alternative to surgery for the treatment of appendicitis.

METHODS: We conducted a pragmatic, nonblinded, noninferiority, randomized trial comparing antibiotic therapy (10-day course) with appendectomy in patients with appendicitis at 25 U.S. centers. The primary outcome was 30-day health status, as assessed with the European Quality of Life-5 Dimensions (EQ-5D) questionnaire (scores range from 0 to 1, with higher scores indicating better health status; noninferiority margin, 0.05 points). Secondary outcomes included appendectomy in the antibiotics group and complications through 90 days; analyses were prespecified in subgroups defined according to the presence or absence of an appendicolith.

RESULTS: In total, 1552 adults (414 with an appendicolith) underwent randomization; 776 were assigned to receive antibiotics (47% of whom were not hospitalized for the index treatment) and 776 to undergo appendectomy (96% of whom underwent a laparoscopic procedure). Antibiotics were noninferior to appendectomy on the basis of 30-day EQ-5D scores (mean difference, 0.01 points; 95% confidence interval [CI], -0.001 to 0.03). In the antibiotics group, 29% had undergone appendectomy by 90 days, including 41% of those with an appendicolith and 25% of those without an appendicolith. Complications were more common in the antibiotics group than in the appendectomy group (8.1 vs. 3.5 per 100 participants; rate ratio, 2.28; 95% CI, 1.30 to 3.98); the higher rate in the antibiotics group could be attributed to those with an appendicolith (20.2 vs. 3.6 per 100 participants; rate ratio, 5.69; 95% CI, 2.11 to 15.38) and not to those without an appendicolith (3.7 vs. 3.5 per 100 participants; rate ratio, 1.05; 95% CI, 0.45 to 2.43). The rate of serious adverse events was 4.0 per 100 participants in the antibiotics group and 3.0 per 100 participants in the appendectomy group (rate ratio, 1.29; 95% CI, 0.67 to 2.50).

CONCLUSIONS: For the treatment of appendicitis, antibiotics were noninferior to appendectomy on the basis of results of a standard health-status measure. In the antibiotics group, nearly 3 in 10 participants had undergone appendectomy by 90 days. Participants with an appendicolith were at a higher risk for appendectomy and for complications than those without an appendicolith. (Funded by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute; CODA ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT02800785.).

Discipline Area Score
Surgery - Gastrointestinal 6 / 7
Emergency Medicine 6 / 7
Comments from MORE raters

Emergency Medicine rater

Less interesting for emergency medicine, this is a surgical decision. This study applies to a small proportion of appendicitis, as only 19% of patients with appendicitis were randomized. Also, it is not clear why about 60% of enrolled patients in any cohort did not undergo randomization.

Emergency Medicine rater

While the possibility of using antibiotics in surgery to treat appendicitis is know, it's safety feasibility is not known. This study gives us an answer that needs to be confirmed by further studies. This study shows that 1/3 of patients treated by antibiotics undergo an appendicectomy. Appendicitis remains a surgical problem.
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