Missed appendicitis in a pediatric emergency department

Sally L. Reynolds*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


Appendicitis is the most common cause of abdominal pain requiring surgery in children. Missed appendicitis is also a frequent cause of professional liability in an emergency department (ED). A retrospective review of all patients with appendicitis diagnosed in the ED was undertaken to identify: 1) how many patients required more than one visit to diagnose appendicitis and 2) the clinical characteristics that distinguished the patients who visited twice from patients who were diagnosed on the first visit. A total of 87 patients with appendicitis were seen by pediatricians in the ED from 1987 to 1989. The patients included 43 girls and 44 boys (mean age, 8.9 years). Six patients (7%) were seen twice before the diagnosis of appendicitis was made. They returned to the ED on average 29 hours after the first visit. The ED discharge diagnosis of the six “missed” patients included: Probable Campylobacter (n = 1), viral urinary tract infection (n = 1), gastroenteritis (n = 2), and abdominal pain (n = 2). The six missed patients were different from the other patients with appendicitis. They were more likely to have a normal appetite, to have diarrhea, and to be afebrile. All the patients had at least two of the four following signs and symptoms: Vomiting, tenderness, guarding, and right lower quadrant (RLQ) pain. At the time of surgery, 23/81 (28%) of the one-visit group had a ruptured appendix, whereas 3/6 (50%) of the missed patients had a ruptured appendix. Conclusions: 1) Seven percent of the patients were seen twice in our ED before the diagnosis of appendicitis was made. 2) All patients with abdominal pain with at least two of the four signs and symptoms (vomiting, tenderness, RLQ pain, and guarding) should be observed for appendicitis. 3) Afebrile children with abdominal pain who have a normal appetite and diarrhea make the diagnosis of appendicitis even more difficult.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-3
Number of pages3
JournalPediatric emergency care
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1993


  • Abdominal pain
  • Appendicitis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Emergency Medicine


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