Spotting Appendicitis sooner

December 10, 2009 3:17:05 PM PST
Appendicitis is the most common childhood surgical emergency, but the diagnosis can be challenging. More than a third of kids don't get diagnosed soon enough and others get the wrong diagnosis. Now researchers created a simple test that could give families the answers they need. "It was very scary," Harrison Dale told Ivanhoe. "The pain was very unimaginable. It was torturous."

Harrison is describing his overnight ordeal with appendicitis. After several exams, X-rays and a blood test, doctors told him he had indigestion. Hours later, a CT scan revealed he had appendicitis.

"It's a little disturbing to hear that doctors can't tell constipation from appendicitis," Harrison said.

Up to 45 percent of appendicitis cases take so long to diagnose the appendix ruptures, and up to 30 percent of kids have an appendix removed unnecessarily because of a misdiagnosis. A new test that focuses on the presence of a specific protein in a child's urine could clear up the confusion.

"If this protein is present in urine, then there is a very high chance that this child has appendicitis," Hanno Steen, Ph.D., director of the Proteomics Center at Children's Hospital Boston, told Ivanhoe.

Researchers use a device called a spectrophotometer to shine a light through the test tube. It picks up on a specific protein in urine that signals appendicitis.

"In a couple of years, we would like to have a dipstick test which allows us to do this kind of urine analysis in the ER within minutes," Dr. Steen said.

Studies show the biomarker test is accurate 97 percent of the time.

"It would save a lot of heartache and pain," Harrison's mother, Robin Dale, told Ivanhoe.

Right now the test only works in children because the biomarker discovered is only present in kids.


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