Medscape is available in 5 Language Editions – Choose your Edition here.


Inflammation of Vermiform Appendix Treatment & Management

  • Author: Steven L Lee, MD; Chief Editor: John Geibel, MD, DSc, MSc, MA  more...
Updated: Oct 19, 2015

Approach Considerations

Indications for surgical consultation

A surgeon should evaluate any patient with classic migrating abdominal pain and right-lower-quadrant (RLQ) tenderness. Given that only a little more than half of patients with appendicitis present with a classic history and physical findings, acute appendicitis should be on the list of possible diagnoses for any patient with abdominal pain. Thus, a surgeon should also evaluate patients with focal RLQ tenderness or progressively worsening abdominal pain.

To minimize the time between presentation and appendectomy, obtain surgical consultation before performing additional diagnostic studies, such as computed tomography (CT) and ultrasonography.[3]

Indications for operation

Appendectomy is typically performed after the diagnosis of appendicitis is made. Patients with a classic history and physical examination findings, along with a normal urine analysis (or pyuria) and an elevated white blood cell (WBC) count with a left shift, usually do not need any additional imaging studies prior to appendectomy. Surgery is also indicated in patients with an atypical presentation and radiographic findings consistent with appendicitis.

Any patient with atypical abdominal pain who (1) experiences persistent pain and becomes febrile, (2) has a rising WBC count, or (3) exhibits worsening clinical examination findings should undergo diagnostic laparoscopy and appendectomy. In patients with an atypical presentation, serial physical examinations are the most important tool in deciding if a patient needs surgery. The WBC count often does not increase after the patient is admitted and hydrated; therefore, any patient sent home from the emergency department should undergo a follow-up evaluation the next day.[3]

Contraindications for operation

No contraindications to performing an appendectomy in patients with suspected appendicitis exist; however, patients with a well-developed abscess (detected on CT) following perforated appendicitis may be initially treated with percutaneous drainage and intravenous (IV) antibiotics.

Once bowel function resumes, the patient may be discharged on oral antibiotics (total IV plus oral antibiotics for 7-10 days) with consideration for interval appendectomy in 6 weeks.[29]


Medical Therapy

Although appendectomy is still the standard treatment, a meta-analysis by Wilms et al led to the conclusion that antibiotic treatment alone might be feasible in specific patients or conditions in which surgery is contraindicated, or in a well-designed randomized, controlled clinical trial.[30, 31] These findings suggest that once broad-spectrum IV antibiotics have been initiated, it is likely that the progression of disease has been halted or reversed.

The multicenter, open-label, randomized Appendicitis Acuta (APPAC) clinical trial was designed to compare antibiotic therapy with appendectomy for treatment of CT-confirmed uncomplicated acute appendicitis.[32]  The aim was to determine whether antibiotic treatment was noninferior to surgery; the rpespecified noninferiority margin was 24%. The primary end point for surgically treated patients (n=273) was successful completion of appendectomy; that for antibiotic-treated patients (n=257) was hospital discharge without need for surgery and no recurrence of appendicitis over 1 year of follow-up.

On intent-to-treat analysis, there was a –27% difference in treatment efficacy between the two groups, favoring surgery.[32]  Thus, the researchers did not demonstrate antibiotic treatment to be noninferior to surgery according to the prespecified noniferiority margin. However, most patients randomized to antibiotic treatment for uncomplicated appendicitis did not require appendectomy during the 1-year follow-up period, and those who required appendectomy did not experience significant complications.

Current findings suggest that appendectomy may be considered a semielective operation rather than an automatically urgent or emergency procedure, as it had been considered in the past. A retrospective study by Kim et al found that delayed appendectomy is safe for patients with acute nonperforated appendicitis.[33]


Surgical Therapy

Preoperative preparation

All patients diagnosed with appendicitis should be adequately hydrated with isotonic IV fluids. In addition, broad-spectrum IV antibiotics (ampicillin, gentamicin, and metronidazole or a third-generation cephalosporin and metronidazole) should be started prior to the operation. Newer single-agent broad-spectrum antibiotic regimens are at least as effective as the traditional triple therapy and may also be used.[34]

Antibiotics, analgesics, and antipyretics should not be administered to patients admitted for serial examinations, because these medications may mask the underlying disease process.

To minimize the time from presentation to appendectomy, surgical consultation should be obtained before additional diagnostic studies are obtained; these tests are often unnecessary.[3]

The basic technique for open and laparoscopic appendectomy is described below and is individualized to the authors' preference.[6] Other approaches, suture materials, or techniques may be used with equal success.

Open appendectomy


Most surgeons perform appendectomy through a RLQ incision over the McBurney point, located two thirds of the distance between the umbilicus and the anterior superior iliac spine. The subcutaneous tissue and Scarpa fascia are dissected until the external oblique aponeurosis is identified. This aponeurosis is divided sharply along the direction of its fibers. A muscle-splitting technique is then used to gain access to the peritoneum. Although historically, intraoperative cultures of purulent peritoneal fluid were obtained, cultures have not been shown to be helpful at the time of initial operation.[35]

Delivery of appendix

Small Richardson retractors are placed into the peritoneum, and the cecum is identified and partially exteriorized with a moist gauze pad or Babcock clamp. The taeniae coli are followed to the point where they converge at the base of the appendix. The rest of the appendix is then brought into the field of vision. Gentle manipulation may be required to bluntly dissect any inflammatory adhesions.

Division of mesoappendix and ligation of appendix

Once the appendix is exteriorized, the mesoappendix is divided between clamps, divided, and ligated. The base of the appendix is clamped after milking potential fecaliths into the lumen of the appendix. The appendix is then tied off with a 0 polyglycolic acid suture. The appendix is amputated and passed off the field as a specimen.

The mucosa of the appendiceal stump may be cauterized to avoid future mucus production. Inverting the appendiceal stump is not necessary. The cecum and appendiceal stump are then placed back into the abdomen. The pelvis and the right pericolic gutter are suctioned to remove any fluid. If no evidence of free perforation exists, further peritoneal lavage is not necessary and may be harmful; however, if free perforation is encountered, the authors prefer to thoroughly irrigate the abdomen with warm saline solution. A drain is not required unless an obvious cavity is present after drainage of a well-developed abscess.


The peritoneum is identified, and hemostats are placed on both apices and on the midpoints of the superior and inferior sides. The peritoneum is closed with a continuous 3-0 polyglycolic acid suture. The inferior oblique muscles are reapproximated with a figure-eight 3-0 polyglycolic acid suture, and the external oblique fascia is closed with a continuous 2-0 polyglycolic acid suture. The skin may be closed with staples or subcutaneous sutures. Use of staples is recommended if the appendix was perforated and skin closure is to be performed. Some authors believe that the skin should be left open in cases of perforated appendicitis, with delayed primary closure performed on postoperative day 4 or 5.

Laparoscopic appendectomy

A urinary bladder catheter is placed, and the surgeon typically stands on the left side of the patient. Video monitors are placed at the patient's right side.

A 12-mm supraumbilical incision is made, followed by placement of the Veress needle. After confirmation of intraperitoneal placement, pneumoperitoneum (15 mm Hg) is established and maintained using a carbon dioxide insufflator. The Veress needle is replaced with a 5-mm trocar, and a 5-mm 30º laparoscope is inserted into the peritoneal cavity. Alternatively, the 5-mm trocar can be placed directly into the abdominal cavity using an open cutdown approach. This 5-mm port will be eventually upsized to a 12-mm port once the other ports are placed.

Under direct visualization, a 5-mm trocar is inserted into the left lower quadrant (LLQ), and another 5-mm trocar is placed in the suprapubic region. The camera is moved to the LLQ port, and the patient is placed in Trendelenburg position with a leftward tilt to maximize intraperitoneal exposure of the RLQ. Through the suprapubic trocar, a grasper is used to gain control of the appendix. A dissector placed through the supraumbilical port is used to create a small hole in the mesoappendix at the base of the appendix. An endoscopic gastrointestinal anastomosis (GIA) stapler is then used to staple the base of the appendix, and a vascular reload is used to staple across the mesoappendix.

Once the appendix is free, it is removed through the 12-mm port by using an endoscopic retrieval bag. Any free fluid in the abdomen and pelvis is suctioned. Appropriate peritoneal irrigation is then performed. The fascia of the supraumbilical port site is closed with 0 polyglycolic acid suture, and the skin incisions are closed with subcuticular sutures.

Single-incision laparoscopic appendectomy

Single-incision laparoscopic appendectomy (SILA) has been described and has shown to be safe and effective. This procedure is typically performed through the umbilicus via a multichannel trocar. The main benefit of SILA is cosmetic; however, early studies reported longer operating times.[36]

Treatment of perforated appendicitis with abscess

Patients with perforated appendicitis and abscess formation or phlegmon may be treated with either immediate operative intervention or initial nonoperative management. Although there are some proponents of immediate surgical intervention, a meta-analysis of 19 studies by Andersson et al found a significantly higher morbidity (odds ratio 3.3) than with nonsurgical treatment.[37]

With nonoperative management, patients are initially treated with broad-spectrum IV antibiotics alone or in combination with percutaneous aspiration of the abscess or drain placement.[38] IV antibiotics are continued until the patient is afebrile for 24 hours, has a return of normal gastrointestinal function, and has a normal WBC count with a normal differential. At this time, patients are switched to oral antibiotics for a total antibiotic course of 10-14 days.

Traditionally, interval appendectomy is performed 6-8 weeks later. In view of the low incidence of recurrent appendicitis, the need for routine interval appendectomy has been challenged.[29, 39]

If acute appendicitis is encountered, only one perioperative dose of broad-spectrum antibiotics is needed to decrease the risk of wound infection and abscess formation.[40] Some surgeons prefer to continue antibiotics for 24 hours after appendectomy. A clear liquid diet can be started once the patient has recovered from anesthesia, and diet can be advanced as tolerated.

If gangrenous or perforated appendicitis is encountered, IV antibiotics are continued until the patient is afebrile, has return of bowel function, and has a normal WBC count with a normal differential. Once bowel function returns, clear liquids can be started and the diet advanced as tolerated. In most patients, a nasogastric tube is not needed.[41, 42]


The overall morbidity of appendicitis is approximately 10%. Most perioperative morbidity is caused by infectious complications. Wound infections occur in approximately 5% of all appendectomies; however, the incidence of this complication is related to the stage of appendicitis. The wound infection rate is 1.4% for nonacute appendicitis, 3% for acute appendicitis, and 10-15% for perforated or gangrenous appendicitis. Formation of intra-abdominal or pelvic abscess after appendectomy occurs in 2-5% of patients. The incidence is higher for gangrenous or perforated appendicitis (6-8%) than for early or suppurative appendicitis (1-2%).[3]

Other complications include persistent ileus, small-bowel obstruction, and pulmonary complications, such as atelectasis and pneumonia. Deep venous thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, and myocardial infarction may also occur in the early postoperative period.


Long-Term Monitoring

The patient should return to the clinic 1-2 weeks after discharge for wound evaluation and discussion of the pathology.

Full activity may be resumed 2 weeks after an appendectomy if the procedure was performed laparoscopically or through an RLQ incision. If a midline incision was used, activity should be limited for 6 weeks.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Steven L Lee, MD Chief of Pediatric Surgery, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center; Associate Clinical Professor of Surgery and Pediatrics; University of California, Los Angeles, David Geffen School of Medicine

Steven L Lee, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Surgeons, American Pediatric Surgical Association, Association for Academic Surgery, Society of Laparoendoscopic Surgeons, International Pediatric Endosurgery Group, Pacific Association of Pediatric Surgery, Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Jeffrey J Du Bois, MD Chief of Children's Surgical Services, Division of Pediatric Surgery, Kaiser Permanente, Women and Children's Center, Roseville Medical Center

Jeffrey J Du Bois, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Surgeons, American Pediatric Surgical Association, California Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Veronica F Sullins, MD Resident Physician, Department of Surgery, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center

Veronica F Sullins, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Surgeons, American Pediatric Surgical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Chief Editor

John Geibel, MD, DSc, MSc, MA Vice Chair and Professor, Department of Surgery, Section of Gastrointestinal Medicine, and Department of Cellular and Molecular Physiology, Yale University School of Medicine; Director, Surgical Research, Department of Surgery, Yale-New Haven Hospital; American Gastroenterological Association Fellow

John Geibel, MD, DSc, MSc, MA is a member of the following medical societies: American Gastroenterological Association, American Physiological Society, American Society of Nephrology, Association for Academic Surgery, International Society of Nephrology, New York Academy of Sciences, Society for Surgery of the Alimentary Tract

Disclosure: Received royalty from AMGEN for consulting; Received ownership interest from Ardelyx for consulting.

Additional Contributors

Brian J Daley, MD, MBA, FACS, FCCP, CNSC Professor and Program Director, Department of Surgery, Chief, Division of Trauma and Critical Care, University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Medicine

Brian J Daley, MD, MBA, FACS, FCCP, CNSC is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Surgery of Trauma, Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma, Southern Surgical Association, American College of Chest Physicians, American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, Association for Academic Surgery, Association for Surgical Education, Shock Society, Society of Critical Care Medicine, Southeastern Surgical Congress, Tennessee Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Shant Shekherdimian, MD, MPH Resident Physician, Department of Surgery, University of California, Los Angeles, David Geffen School of Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

  1. Condon RE, Telford GL. Appendicitis. Townsend CM, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery: The Biological Basis of Modern Surgical Practice. 14th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: WB Saunders and Co; 1991. 884-898.

  2. Fitz RH. Perforating inflammation of the vermiform appendix; with special reference to its early diagnosis and treatment. Am J Med Sci. 1886. 92:321-346.

  3. Lee SL, Walsh AJ, Ho HS. Computed tomography and ultrasonography do not improve and may delay the diagnosis and treatment of acute appendicitis. Arch Surg. 2001 May. 136(5):556-62. [Medline].

  4. Lewis FR, Holcroft JW, Boey J, et al. Appendicitis. A critical review of diagnosis and treatment in 1,000 cases. Arch Surg. 1975 May. 110(5):677-84. [Medline].

  5. Herrinton JL Jr. The vermiform appendix: its surgical history. Contemp Surg. 1991. 39:36-44.

  6. Ho HS. Appendectomy. Scientific American Surgery. 1999. 1-18.

  7. Liu CD, McFadden DW. Acute abdomen and appendix. Greenfield LJ, Mulholland MW, eds. Surgery: Scientific Principles and Practice. 2nd ed. Baltimore, Md: Williams & Wilkins; 1997. 1246-1261.

  8. Carr NJ. The pathology of acute appendicitis. Ann Diagn Pathol. 2000 Feb. 4(1):46-58. [Medline].

  9. Korner H, Sondenaa K, Soreide JA, et al. Incidence of acute nonperforated and perforated appendicitis: age-specific and sex-specific analysis. World J Surg. 1997 Mar-Apr. 21(3):313-7. [Medline].

  10. Corneille MG, Steigelman MB, Myers JG, et al. Laparoscopic appendectomy is superior to open appendectomy in obese patients. Am J Surg. 2007 Dec. 194(6):877-80; discussion 880-1. [Medline].

  11. Masoomi H, Mills S, Dolich MO, Ketana N, Carmichael JC, Nguyen NT, et al. Comparison of outcomes of laparoscopic versus open appendectomy in adults: data from the Nationwide Inpatient Sample (NIS), 2006-2008. J Gastrointest Surg. 2011 Dec. 15(12):2226-31. [Medline].

  12. Yu CW, Juan LI, Wu MH, Shen CJ, Wu JY, Lee CC. Systematic review and meta-analysis of the diagnostic accuracy of procalcitonin, C-reactive protein and white blood cell count for suspected acute appendicitis. Br J Surg. 2013 Feb. 100(3):322-9. [Medline].

  13. Schellekens DH, Hulsewé KW, van Acker BA, et al. Evaluation of the diagnostic accuracy of plasma markers for early diagnosis in patients suspected for acute appendicitis. Acad Emerg Med. 2013 Jul. 20(7):703-10. [Medline].

  14. Alvarado A. A practical score for the early diagnosis of acute appendicitis. Ann Emerg Med. 1986 May. 15(5):557-64. [Medline].

  15. Zakaria OM, Sultan TA, Khalil TH, Wahba T, Abd El Bari E. Role of Clinical Judgment and Tissue Harmonic Imaging Ultrasonography in Diagnosis of Paediatric Acute Appendicitis. World J Emerg Surg. 2011 Nov 16. 6(1):39. [Medline].

  16. Gaitini D. Imaging acute appendicitis: state of the art. J Clin Imaging Sci. 2011. 1:49. [Medline]. [Full Text].

  17. Kessler N, Cyteval C, Gallix B, et al. Appendicitis: evaluation of sensitivity, specificity, and predictive values of US, Doppler US, and laboratory findings. Radiology. 2004 Feb. 230(2):472-8. [Medline].

  18. Franke C, Bohner H, Yang Q, et al. Ultrasonography for diagnosis of acute appendicitis: results of a prospective multicenter trial.Acute Abdominal Pain Study Group. World J Surg. 1999 Feb. 23(2):141-6. [Medline].

  19. Ford RD, Passinault WJ, Morse ME, et al. Diagnostic ultrasound for suspected appendicitis: does the added cost produce a better outcome?. Am Surg. 1994 Nov. 60(11):895-8. [Medline].

  20. Douglas CD, Macpherson NE, Davidson PM, et al. Randomised controlled trial of ultrasonography in diagnosis of acute appendicitis, incorporating the Alvarado score. BMJ. 2000 Oct 14. 321(7266):919-22. [Medline].

  21. Jaremko JL, Crockett A, Rucker D, Magnus KG. Incidence and significance of inconclusive results in ultrasound for appendicitis in children and teenagers. Can Assoc Radiol J. 2011 Aug. 62(3):197-202. [Medline].

  22. Rao PM, Rhea JT, Novelline RA, et al. Effect of computed tomography of the appendix on treatment of patients and use of hospital resources. N Engl J Med. 1998 Jan 15. 338(3):141-6. [Medline].

  23. Horton MD, Counter SF, Florence MG, et al. A prospective trial of computed tomography and ultrasonography for diagnosing appendicitis in the atypical patient. Am J Surg. 2000 May. 179(5):379-81. [Medline].

  24. Malone AJ Jr, Wolf CR, Malmed AS, et al. Diagnosis of acute appendicitis: value of unenhanced CT. AJR Am J Roentgenol. 1993 Apr. 160(4):763-6. [Medline].

  25. Weyant MJ, Eachempati SR, Maluccio MA, et al. Interpretation of computed tomography does not correlate with laboratory or pathologic findings in surgically confirmed acute appendicitis. Surgery. 2000 Aug. 128(2):145-52. [Medline].

  26. Grosskreutz S, Goff WB 2nd, Balsara Z, et al. CT of the normal appendix. J Comput Assist Tomogr. 1991 Jul-Aug. 15(4):575-7. [Medline].

  27. Scatarige JC, DiSantis DJ, Allen HA 3rd, et al. CT demonstration of the appendix in asymptomatic adults. Gastrointest Radiol. 1989 Summer. 14(3):271-3. [Medline].

  28. Rypins EB, Evans DG, Hinrichs W, et al. Tc-99m-HMPAO white blood cell scan for diagnosis of acute appendicitis in patients with equivocal clinical presentation. Ann Surg. 1997 Jul. 226(1):58-65. [Medline].

  29. Kaminski A, Liu IL, Applebaum H, et al. Routine interval appendectomy is not justified after initial nonoperative treatment of acute appendicitis. Arch Surg. 2005 Sep. 140(9):897-901. [Medline].

  30. Wilms IM, de Hoog DE, de Visser DC, Janzing HM. Appendectomy versus antibiotic treatment for acute appendicitis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Nov 9. 11:CD008359. [Medline].

  31. Mason RJ, Moazzez A, Sohn H, Katkhouda N. Meta-analysis of randomized trials comparing antibiotic therapy with appendectomy for acute uncomplicated (no abscess or phlegmon) appendicitis. Surg Infect (Larchmt). 2012 Apr. 13(2):74-84. [Medline].

  32. Salminen P, Paajanen H, Rautio T, Nordström P, Aarnio M, Rantanen T, et al. Antibiotic Therapy vs Appendectomy for Treatment of Uncomplicated Acute Appendicitis: The APPAC Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2015 Jun 16. 313 (23):2340-8. [Medline].

  33. Kim SH, Park SJ, Park YY, Choi SI. Delayed Appendectomy Is Safe in Patients With Acute Nonperforated Appendicitis. Int Surg. 2015 Jun. 100 (6):1004-10. [Medline].

  34. Goldin AB, Sawin RS, Garrison MM, et al. Aminoglycoside-based triple-antibiotic therapy versus monotherapy for children with ruptured appendicitis. Pediatrics. 2007 May. 119(5):905-11. [Medline].

  35. Bilik R, Burnweit C, Shandling B. Is abdominal cavity culture of any value in appendicitis?. Am J Surg. 1998 Apr. 175(4):267-70. [Medline].

  36. Cai YL, Xiong XZ, Wu SJ, Cheng Y, Lu J, Zhang J, et al. Single-incision laparoscopic appendectomy vs conventional laparoscopic appendectomy: systematic review and meta-analysis. World J Gastroenterol. 2013 Aug 21. 19(31):5165-73. [Medline]. [Full Text].

  37. Andersson RE, Petzold MG. Nonsurgical treatment of appendiceal abscess or phlegmon: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Surg. 2007 Nov. 246(5):741-8. [Medline].

  38. Oliak D, Yamini D, Udani VM, et al. Initial nonoperative management for periappendiceal abscess. Dis Colon Rectum. 2001 Jul. 44(7):936-41. [Medline].

  39. Puapong D, Lee SL, Haigh PI, et al. Routine interval appendectomy in children is not indicated. J Pediatr Surg. 2007 Sep. 42(9):1500-3. [Medline].

  40. Andersen BR, Kallehave FL, Andersen HK. Antibiotics versus placebo for prevention of postoperative infection after appendicectomy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2005 Jul 20. CD001439. [Medline].

  41. Hoelzer DJ, Zabel DD, Zern JT. Determining duration of antibiotic use in children with complicated appendicitis. Pediatr Infect Dis J. 1999 Nov. 18(11):979-82. [Medline].

  42. Lee SL, Islam S, Cassidy LD, Abdullah F, Arca MJ. Antibiotics and appendicitis in the pediatric population: an American Pediatric Surgical Association Outcomes and Clinical Trials Committee systematic review. J Pediatr Surg. 2010 Nov. 45(11):2181-5. [Medline].

  43. Birnbaum BA, Wilson SR. Appendicitis at the millennium. Radiology. 2000 May. 215(2):337-48. [Medline].

All material on this website is protected by copyright, Copyright © 1994-2016 by WebMD LLC. This website also contains material copyrighted by 3rd parties.