The study compared the sensitivity, specificity, confidence and interpretation time of readers of differing experience in diagnosing acute appendicitis with contrast-enhanced CT using neutral vs positive oral contrast agents.
Contrast-enhanced CT for right lower quadrant or right flank pain was performed in 200 patients with neutral and 200 with positive oral contrast including 199 with proven acute appendicitis and 201 with other diagnoses. Test set disease prevalence was 50%. Two experienced gastrointestinal radiologists, one fellow and two first-year residents blindly assessed all studies for appendicitis (2000 readings) and assigned confidence scores (1=poor to 4=excellent). Receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curves were generated. Total interpretation time was recorded. Each reader's interpretation with the two agents was compared using standard statistical methods.
Average reader sensitivity was found to be 96% (range 91–99%) with positive and 95% (89–98%) with neutral oral contrast; specificity was 96% (92–98%) and 94% (90–97%). For each reader, no statistically significant difference was found between the two agents (sensitivities p-values >0.6; specificities p-values>0.08), in the area under the ROC curve (range 0.95–0.99) or in average interpretation times. In cases without appendicitis, positive oral contrast demonstrated improved appendix identification (average 90% vs 78%) and higher confidence scores for three readers. Average interpretation times showed no statistically significant differences between the agents.
Neutral vs positive oral contrast does not affect the accuracy of contrast-enhanced CT for diagnosing acute appendicitis. Although positive oral contrast might help to identify normal appendices, we continue to use neutral oral contrast given its other potential benefits.