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"Acute abdomen": early laparoscopy or active laparotomic-laparoscopic observation?

BACKGROUND/AIMS: Acute abdomen accounts for 13-40% of all emergency surgical admissions. The aim of this prospective randomized controlled study was to examine the role of early laparoscopy in the management of acute abdomen compared with the more traditional active observation.

METHODOLOGY: From July 1993 to August 2004, 522 patients consecutively, admitted with "acute abdomen", were randomized to either early laparoscopy (260 patients) (group 1) or active observation and non-invasive investigation (262 patients) (group 2). Baseline investigations included a full blood count, a pregnancy test in women of reproductive age, chest and/or abdominal radiograph if indicated clinically.

RESULTS: Sixty-two patients in the laparoscopy group underwent a total of 116 radiological investigations compared with a total of 558 investigations in all patients in the observation group (P < 0.05). In the observation group 34.7% of patients remained without a clear diagnosis compared with 4.2% of patients in the early laparoscopic group (P < 0.0001). The morbidity rate was 1.1% in group 1 and 27% in group 2 (P < 0.0001). The duration of hospital stay was significantly shorter in group 1 (3.1 vs. 7.3 days) (P < 0.01). Eight patients in group 1 required readmission (total readmission 46 days) compared with 58 patients in group 2 who stayed a total of 201 days (P < 0.05).

CONCLUSIONS: Early laparoscopy is valuable in the management of acute abdomen. It provides a significantly higher diagnostic accuracy and a better improvement in quality of life than the more traditional approach observation.

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