Early laparoscopy as a routine procedure in the management of acute abdominal pain: a review of 1,320 patients

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Abstract

Background

Acute abdominal pain is a common cause for presentation to the emergency room and hospital admission. Many of these patients will undergo exploration for suspected appendicitis, but in 20–35% of cases a normal appendix is found. Because of the limited access provided by the gridiron incision, a definitive diagnosis may not be found. Other patients may be treated conservatively and discharged, only to return with recurrent pain or more definitive symptoms of pathology. In patients with acute abdominal pain, early laparoscopy is an accurate means of both making a definitive diagnosis and avoiding a delay in the diagnosis.

Methods

We performed a retrospective analysis of 1,320 consecutive patients with acute abdominal pain over a 62-month period. All patients underwent diagnostic laparoscopy within 48 h of admission. We evaluated the initial clinical diagnosis, the laparoscopic diagnosis, and the subsequent outcome in this group of patients. Individuals with abdominal trauma were excluded from the study, and all patients were >12 years of age.

Results

A definitive diagnosis was made in 90% of patients after diagnostic laparoscopy. Laparoscopy changed the clinical diagnosis in 30% of cases. (83%) of patients underwent a laparoscopic operation for management of their condition at the time of diagnosis. In 92 patients (7%), conversion to laparotomy was required to manage their condition. Peritonitis was present in 180 patients; of 110 of them had appendicitis. Twelve patients developed complications related to the diagnostic laparoscopy or the laparoscopic operation, and there was one postoperative death due to a perforated gastric malignancy. Mean operating time was 30 min (range, 17–90)

Conclusion

Early diagnostic laparoscopy and treatment results in the accurate, prompt, and efficient management of acute abdominal pain. This technique reduces the rate of unnecessary laparotomy and right iliac fossa gridiron incisions and increases the diagnostic accuracy in these patients. This treatment method is feasible where facilities are available to accommodate the workload and there are practitioners with the requisite expertise.