Treatment of slipped upper femoral epiphysis (SUFE) is directed at preventing progressive slippage, minimizing deformity and avoiding avascular necrosis and chondrolysis. Delay in treatment adversely affects long-term outcomes. In a retrospective study we assessed delays between symptom onset and evaluation of the patient in an orthopaedic department. 27 patients aged 10-16 years were grouped by source of referral (general practitioner or accident and emergency department), and hips were classified as stable or unstable according to ability to bear weight. The 27 children had 37 affected hips, 31 stable and 6 unstable. In the 20 patients referred by general practitioners, mean delay from symptom onset to orthopaedic evaluation was 119 days (range 2-504); in the 7 referred from accident and emergency departments it was 95 days (1-482). In the latter group the slips were more likely to be acute and unstable. 9 (45%) of the patients in the general-practitioner group had hip radiography before referral, all correctly diagnosed though not all the examinations included the recommended frog-lateral views. Long delays between onset and diagnosis of SUFE are most likely in patients with mild symptoms, able to bear weight on the hip. Any adolescent with undiagnosed hip or knee pain that has lasted more than a week should undergo radiological investigation of the hip, with frog-lateral as well as anteroposterior views.
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