Study: appendicitis can be treated with antibiotics alone

COLUMBUS, OH. — When it comes to appendicitis, surgery is the standard treatment. Within hours of being diagnosed, patients almost always undergo surgery to remove the appendix. In children alone, there are 70 thousand appendectomies a year – that’s 200 a day according to the New England Journal of Medicine Surgery. But is surgery really necessary? A new study is out suggesting it’s not always and many children with appendicitis could be treated with antibiotics alone. ABC 10’s Sarah Mac reports.

It was during the holiday break a couple of years ago that the Gibson family plans nearly fell apart. Aria was set to star in a school play, and her parents had booked a surprise trip to Disney when suddenly Aria was rushed to the hospital.

Aria’s mom Aubrey Gibson says, “They checked her out and did an ultrasound and they told us that she did have appendicitis.”

Normally, that means emergency surgery within hours and a recovery that can take weeks. Luckily, Aria was at Nationwide Children’s Hospital where doctors conducted the first study in the U.S. to see if they could skip surgery and treat appendicitis using only antibiotics.

Pete Minneci, MD of Nationwide Children’s Hospital says, “At least at the end of a year we know that over 3 out of 4 more than 75 percent of kids who chose antibiotics did not have to have surgery.”

Whether it is surgery or antibiotics Dr. Kate Deans and Dr. Pete Minneci say parents need to pick the method that best suits their family.

Dr. Deans says. “It’s really a matter of aligning your preferences, your values, your bias, what you think is most important to you, with the therapy that’s best for you and your family.”

Dr. Minneci added, “If we don’t have to have surgery, if they don’t have to be in pain, if we don’t have to have the risk of surgery or anesthesia, it was worth a try.”

It’s been two years since Aria’s bout with appendicitis. She may be too young to appreciate the novel approach doctors took to treat her, but her family will never forget the experiences shared as a result.

“It was amazing,” her mom says, “She was able to do her musical and then we were able to go to Disney World with no problems and we were really thankful that that was an option for us.”

Aria Gibson says, “I feel great. There’s nothing I haven’t experienced anything else. I haven’t…It hasn’t hurt or anything.”

The antibiotics–only approach was only attempted in cases of simple appendicitis when the patient had no complications and it hadn’t become too severe.

Patients were given antibiotics though an IV at the hospital, then given pills to take at home afterwards. Within one year only one out of four children who chose antibiotics had to have their appendix removed.

Even then the medication–first approach showed a savings of healthcare costs of 20%.