When it comes to the appendix, things are still pretty unclear, but one thing’s for sure: if you develop appendicitis, you need surgery to have your appendix removed. But now, a new study found that antibiotics could eliminate the need for an appendectomy.

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The appendix is a blind-ended tube connected to the cecum. Its exact role and functions are still a matter of debate, and it has previously been suggested that it is actually a vestigial structure, a structure that has lost all or most of its original function. Some people develop an inflammation of the appendix, a potentially life threatening condition. Untreated, the appendix may rupture, leading to peritonitis, followed by shock. However, the required operation is very simple, and is generally routinely carried out at hospitals throughout the world. There is no other way of dealing with an appendicitis – or at least there wasn’t, until now.

Published on June 16 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the study followed 530 patients aged 18 to 60 and split randomly into two groups. Just over half of them, 273, underwent the routine procedure, while 257 patients were given antibiotics for 3 days, followed by 7 days of oral levofloxacin and metronidazole, two relatively common, broad spectrum antibiotics.

“The primary end point for antibiotic-treated patients was discharge from the hospital without the need for surgery and no recurrent appendicitis during a 1-year follow-up period,” the research reads.

It seems that at least in some  cases, operation could be rendered unnecessary, replaced instead by these antibiotics. According to Dr. Paulina Salminen, a surgeon at Turku University Hospital in Finland and lead author of the new study, the new findings are applicable only to uncomplicated appendicitis.

‘These findings suggest that for CT-diagnosed uncomplicated appendicitis, an initial trial of antibiotics is reasonable followed by elective appendectomy for patients who don’t improve with antibiotics or present with recurrent appendicitis.’

There are two types of appendicitis, a more serious form that needs surgery and a milder one that can be treated with antibiotics, Salminen explained.

“You can’t really do a CT scan on pregnant women, so you can’t really have the precise diagnosis, so to be on the safe side those patients would probably have to undergo appendectomy”, she said.

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