Surgeons removing an appendix in Pretoria, South Africa.
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June 16, 2015 3:32 PM EDT

With one in 10 Americans affected by acute appendicitis at some point in their lives—a whopping 300,000 a year—appendectomy surgery has become a routine procedure in the U.S. health care system. But according to a new study, antibiotics may be a strong alternative to surgery in uncomplicated cases of acute appendicitis.

The study, published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, consisted of 530 patients with appendicitis ranging in age from 18 to 60 who were split randomly into two groups: 273 of them underwent standard open appendectomy surgery, while the other 257 received antibiotic treatment.

While 272 of the 273 appendectomy surgeries were successful, 186 of the patients treated with antibiotics did not require surgery at all. Those in the antibiotic group who did ultimately require surgery during a one-year follow-up period (70 patients) showed no signs of complications associated with delaying the procedure.

The study, which was conducted from November 2009 to June 2012 in Finland, raises questions about the routinized use of appendectomy surgery to treat appendicitis—but it is not without its critics, who point out that little is known about the causes of appendicitis.

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