Many people with appendicitis don’t need surgery — just antibiotics, study finds

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Many people with appendicitis could skip surgery and take antibiotics instead, a new study suggests.

The study, published Tuesday in the journal JAMA, looked at data from 257 patients from Finland who had uncomplicated acute appendicitis (meaning their appendix had not burst) and were treated with antibiotics instead of surgery. The researchers then compared this group with another 270 adults who had surgery for appendicitis.

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Those given antibiotics were treated with a three-day intravenous dose of ertapenem in the hospital followed by a seven-day course of levofloxacin and metronidazole pills at home.

The patients were followed up with five years later. The researchers said nearly two-thirds of people who received antibiotics were considered “successfully treated,” meaning they didn’t need surgery within the five years of observation.

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The other 39 per cent needed surgery to remove their appendix, but the delay did not result in any increased or severe complications.

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The study said those who received antibiotics also had lower rates of complications than those who had surgery. People who took antibiotics also took 11 fewer days off work than the surgery group.

Dr. Paulina Salminen, the study’s lead author and a surgeon at Turku University Hospital in Finland told Popular Science that taking antibiotics for appendicitis is a “feasible, viable and a safe option.”

“It takes some time to create a big change in the mindset of patients, doctors, and surgeons, but this has already started with the promising results. This could have a major impact on current surgical practices.”

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Although removing your appendix is a low-risk, routine surgery, it is still invasive, Janice Taylor, a pediatric surgeon based at University of Florida Health told Popular Science.

Any surgery bears the risk of developing complications, she said. There are also the financial impacts as well as taking time off work to heal. So opting for antibiotics instead may circumvent these complications.

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