Dear Dr. Roach: Some studies show that people who have their appendix removed do not develop Parkinson's disease or do so more slowly. My father had some symptoms of Parkinson's but never became as ill as his brothers and sisters, who had severe cases. My father had his appendix removed. I am curious about this. Do you think more research will be done?
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A: More research has indeed been done, even since A.L.R. submitted this question. A study from last year in October looked at records of 1.7 million people and showed a 20% decreased incidence of Parkinson's disease -- a progressive neurological disease predominantly affecting movement -- in people who had undergone appendectomy. Further, the study showed a delay of over three years in the onset of Parkinson's, suggesting that the appendix may play a role.
However, in May, a different study came to the opposite conclusion. Researchers studied the medical records of 62 million patients, and compared the risk of Parkinson's based on whether they had had their appendix out. Those who had surgical removal had a 1% risk of Parkinson's; those who did not have surgery had only a 0.3% risk of Parkinson's, showing an apparent tripling in risk for Parkinson's among those who had surgery.
It's not unknown to have conflicting studies in medical science, and it does seem that something "bad" for you one day is "good" for you a few years later. I'm thinking about coffee, for example. The type of study design in both studies only indicates an association, not whether the appendectomy increases or decreases risk.
Given that when you have appendicitis, Parkinson's risk is far from your (or your surgeon's) mind, the question is largely academic. Further research may help scientists better understand the underlying causes of Parkinson's.