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West J Emerg Med. 2018 May;19(3):460-464. doi: 10.5811/westjem.2018.1.36891. Epub 2018 Mar 13.

Clinical Ultrasound Is Safe and Highly Specific for Acute Appendicitis in Moderate to High Pre-test Probability Patients.

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Indiana University School of Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine, Indianapolis, Indiana.



Clinical ultrasound (CUS) is highly specific for the diagnosis of acute appendicitis but is operator-dependent. The goal of this study was to determine if a heterogeneous group of emergency physicians (EP) could diagnose acute appendicitis on CUS in patients with a moderate to high pre-test probability.


This was a prospective, observational study of a convenience sample of adult and pediatric patients with suspected appendicitis. Sonographers received a structured, 20-minute CUS training on appendicitis prior to patient enrollment. The presence of a dilated (>6 mm diameter), non-compressible, blind-ending tubular structure was considered a positive study. Non-visualization or indeterminate studies were considered negative. We collected pre-test probability of acute appendicitis based on a 10-point visual analog scale (moderate to high was defined as >3), and confidence in CUS interpretation. The primary objective was measured by comparing CUS findings to surgical pathology and one week follow-up.


We enrolled 105 patients; 76 had moderate to high pre-test probability. Of these, 24 were children. The rate of appendicitis was 36.8% in those with moderate to high pre-test probability. CUS were recorded by 33 different EPs. The sensitivity, specificity, and positive and negative likelihood ratios of EP-performed CUS in patients with moderate to high pre-test probability were 42.8% (95% confidence interval [CI] [25-62.5%]), 97.9% (95% CI [87.5-99.8%]), 20.7 (95% CI [2.8-149.9]) and 0.58 (95% CI [0.42-0.8]), respectively. The 16 false negative scans were all interpreted as indeterminate. There was one false positive CUS diagnosis; however, the sonographer reported low confidence of 2/10.


A heterogeneous group of EP sonographers can safely identify acute appendicitis with high specificity in patients with moderate to high pre-test probability. This data adds support for surgical consultation without further imaging beyond CUS in the appropriate clinical setting.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Conflict of interest statement

Conflicts of Interest: By the WestJEM article submission agreement, all authors are required to disclose all affiliations, funding sources and financial or management relationships that could be perceived as potential sources of bias. No author has professional or financial relationships with any companies that are relevant to this study. There are no conflicts of interest or sources of funding to declare.

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