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Why do some cautious ER doctors misdiagnose appendicitis?

On Behalf of | Mar 16, 2023 | Personal Injury Defense

Appendicitis is a medical emergency, as it can quickly become life-threatening for patients. This is especially true if a patient’s appendix bursts, as a ruptured appendix can cause peritonitis, sepsis or septic shock. Prompt diagnosis and treatment can improve a patient’s prognosis considerably, of course.

Doctors routinely misdiagnose appendicitis in emergency departments across the country. In fact, according to Michigan Medicine, misdiagnoses happen in as many as 15% of pediatric patients and upwards of 23% of adult patients. Why are misdiagnoses so common, though?

Localized abdominal pain

Most emergency room physicians believe that appendicitis comes with tell-tale pain in the lower abdomen. This pain tends to increase when doctors apply pressure to a patient’s lower-middle part of the belly. Nevertheless, some appendicitis sufferers have little or no abdominal discomfort. If doctors do not perform additional testing, they might miss appendicitis altogether.

The jump test

Especially with pediatric patients, ER doctors often perform a jump test to confirm or rule out appendicitis. With this test, patients try to jump from a standing position. If patients cannot get their feet to leave the floor, appendicitis is likely. Regrettably, though, some appendicitis sufferers can jump well enough to pass the test. If physicians do not realize this, they may not be able to make a correct and timely appendicitis diagnosis.

Even diligent and careful doctors sometimes misdiagnose appendicitis in busy emergency rooms. Ultimately, if physicians can prove they have not violated the applicable standard of care, they might not be liable for not correctly diagnosing appendicitis.