Researcher saves appendixes

By Joseph Tubb

Canadians can now blame those pesky SUVs for their appendicitis. University of Calgary medical researcher Dr. Gilaad Kaplan and his team have discovered a possible link between appendicitis and air pollution. Five thousand adults admitted to Calgary hospitals with appendicitis between 1999 and 2006 were used in the study, which attempted to correlate levels of various air pollutants with the incidence of appendicitis.

His study, presented at a scientific convention in Orlando, Florida found that more patients were hospitalized for appendicitis on days when air pollution levels were high. Although the exact reason for the correlation is unknown, Kaplan suggested inflammation may be caused by the pollutants, as is the case with some lung and heart diseases.

Kaplan explained that although appendectomy for appendicitis is the most common operation in North America today, the exact cause of the disease is not fully understood. He remarked that understanding the origins of the disease may lead to better diagnostic tests, management techniques and possibly even a means to prevent it.

“The Holy Grail of research is prevention,” said Kaplan.

Air pollution, however, is not the only factor that scientists believe is linked to appendicitis.

“Scientists have hypothesized for a number of years that appendicitis may be attributed to reduced fibre consumption in industrialized nations,” said Kaplan. “In our study, we wanted to explore if air pollution could also play a role in this disease.”

The initial inspiration for the study came from the history and epidemiology of the disease. First recognized in the United States in 1886, appendicitis has appeared more frequently in industrialized nations.

“Without explanation the incidence of appendicitis decreased in the mid and latter part of the 20th century,” said Kaplan. “After the United States Clean Air Act was legislated in 1970, the incidence of appendicitis was shown to decrease from 1970 to 1984. In contrast, the occurrence of appendicitis in developing nations is rare. However, as these nations have become industrialized the rates of appendicitis have also risen.”

Although he did not want to say too much about the future of the study, Kaplan said that it was important to recognize the limitations of the study’s scale.

“Our next study will attempt to replicate our findings in Calgary in other cities across Canada,” he noted.

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