Friday, June 01, 2007

With Appendicitis, Skip the CT Scan - Go Straight to Surgery

news you may not know

Nobody Knows What It Does??

Quick - What does the appendix do? Come on, you know this one. OK - relax, let your mind become a blank slate - breath deeply and... Still no clue? Welcome to the club.

Ask a physician the role of the appendix and she will give you the same blank stare you have mastered. Depending on your mutual schedules, you could spend several minutes exchanging your lack of knowledge through the non-verbal universal language of cluelessness.

But, enough about the art of communication.

Though its role is unknown, the appendix does occasionally cause problems. And, typically, these need to be dealt with quickly to avoid more serious complications.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin at Madison report that time is of the essence in treating acute appendicitis. This means the time spent waiting for CT scan results places patients at increased risk. They recommend the scans be skipped in cases that present a straightforward diagnosis and that patients be sent directly to surgery.

The difference in time, and outcome, is significant. The researchers reviewed the records of over 400 appendectomy patients and found twice the rate of complications for patients who underwent a CT scan: 17% of patients receiving the scan experienced a perforation (rupture) of the appendix compared to only 8% of patients who received no scan.

The scientists attribute the difference to the delay in moving to surgery. Patients going directly to surgery do so within an average of 5 hours - those receiving scans take about 8 hours to hit surgery.

How do you know if you're experiencing appendicitis? Look for these classic symptoms:

-pain in the abdomen - beginning near the belly button and moving to the lower right

-nausea

-vomiting

-constipation or diarrhea

-loss of appetite

-inability to pass gas

-low-grade fever developing after other symptoms appear

-abdominal swelling

The pain of appendicitis intensifies rather quickly, and may become quite severe over a 6 to 12 hour period. Those between 10 and 30 years of age are at greatest risk of experiencing appendicitis.

So, now you know. If you're unfortunate enough to experience an appendicitis attack, at least you're prepared. As they wheel you through the doors at the ER, muster your strength and shout, "Take me straight to surgery - the CT scan is a waste of my time!"

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read more about appendicitis, see this from the Mayo Clinic.

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