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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The Alvarado score for predicting acute appendicitis: a systematic review

Robert Ohle, Fran O'Reilly, Kirsty K O'Brien, Tom Fahey and Borislav D Dimitrov*

Author Affiliations

HRB Centre for Primary Care Research, Division of Population Health Sciences, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, 123 St. Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, Ireland

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BMC Medicine 2011, 9:139  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-9-139

Published: 28 December 2011

Abstract

Background

The Alvarado score can be used to stratify patients with symptoms of suspected appendicitis; the validity of the score in certain patient groups and at different cut points is still unclear. The aim of this study was to assess the discrimination (diagnostic accuracy) and calibration performance of the Alvarado score.

Methods

A systematic search of validation studies in Medline, Embase, DARE and The Cochrane library was performed up to April 2011. We assessed the diagnostic accuracy of the score at the two cut-off points: score of 5 (1 to 4 vs. 5 to 10) and score of 7 (1 to 6 vs. 7 to 10). Calibration was analysed across low (1 to 4), intermediate (5 to 6) and high (7 to 10) risk strata. The analysis focused on three sub-groups: men, women and children.

Results

Forty-two studies were included in the review. In terms of diagnostic accuracy, the cut-point of 5 was good at 'ruling out' admission for appendicitis (sensitivity 99% overall, 96% men, 99% woman, 99% children). At the cut-point of 7, recommended for 'ruling in' appendicitis and progression to surgery, the score performed poorly in each subgroup (specificity overall 81%, men 57%, woman 73%, children 76%). The Alvarado score is well calibrated in men across all risk strata (low RR 1.06, 95% CI 0.87 to 1.28; intermediate 1.09, 0.86 to 1.37 and high 1.02, 0.97 to 1.08). The score over-predicts the probability of appendicitis in children in the intermediate and high risk groups and in women across all risk strata.

Conclusions

The Alvarado score is a useful diagnostic 'rule out' score at a cut point of 5 for all patient groups. The score is well calibrated in men, inconsistent in children and over-predicts the probability of appendicitis in women across all strata of risk.