A significant number of elective colon resections for uncomplicated diverticulitis are done in individuals who have experienced fewer than three episodes.
Researchers analyzed nationwide data from 87,461 immunocompetent patients with at least one claim for diverticulitis, of whom 5,604 (6.4%) underwent a resection.
According to a paper published online Feb. 10 in JAMA Surgery, 94.9% of resections, in a final cohort of 3,054 patients, occurred in individuals with fewer than three episodes of diverticulitis, if only inpatient claims were counted (doi:10.1001/jamasurg.2015.5478).
If both inpatient and outpatient claims for diverticulitis were counted, 80.5% of patients who underwent resection had experienced fewer than three episodes, and if all types of claims (including antibiotic prescription claims for diverticulitis) were counted, that figure dropped to 56.3%.
Individuals who underwent early resection were slightly more likely to be male (risk ratio [RR], 1.07; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.02-1.13; P = .004) but were of a similar age to those who underwent resection after three or more episodes of diverticulitis.
The mean time between the last two episodes of diverticulitis was longer in individuals who underwent early surgery compared to those who delayed surgery (157 days vs. 96 days; P less than .001).
Patients residing in the South were also significantly more likely to undergo early surgery than were those residing in an other regions, with 60.5% of policy holders there undergoing early surgery compared to 50.7% in the West.
Insurance status also influenced the likelihood of early surgery, as patients with HMO or capitated insurance plans were less likely to undergo early surgery than were patients with other plan types.
In the last decade, professional guidelines have moved toward recommending elective surgery for diverticulitis after three or more episodes, but at the same time, the incidence of elective resection has more than doubled, reported Dr. Vlad V. Simianu of the University of Washington, Seattle, and coauthors.
This study covered a period of data in which guidelines on elective resection have remained in a relatively steady state, offering an opportunity to assess guideline adherence.
“Within this context, the suspected drivers of early elective surgery (younger age, laparoscopy, more frequent episodes, and personal financial risk) were not found to be associated with earlier operations for diverticulitis,” the authors wrote.
The analysis found laparoscopy was not associated with early surgery, which the authors said challenged the hypothesis that the threshold for early surgical resection might be lowered by the availability of laparoscopy.
The lack of an age difference between those undergoing early resection also challenged the notion that younger patients may experience more severe diverticulitis and suffer a greater impact on their quality of life and that this may drive physicians to operate earlier.
The authors noted that patient factors such as quality of life and anxiety about future episodes of diverticulitis, and surgeon-related factors such as training, local practice, and referral patterns were not tested, and that these may account for some of decisions about early surgery.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the University of Washington supported the study. No conflicts of interest were declared.