A prevailing theory is that appendicitis occurs when the opening to the appendix, a pouch-like organ attached to the large intestine, gets blocked. Specifically, some experts believe that lower fiber intake among citizens of industrialized countries leads to obstruction of the appendix by the stool.
But that doesn't explain the decreased incidence of appendicitis in the second half of the 20th century, Kaplan said.
Air pollution is already linked with a wide range of health conditions, most notably respiratory diseases and cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke.
Kaplan and his colleagues looked at more than 5,000 adults who were hospitalized in Calgary with appendicitis between April 1, 1999, and the end of 2006. This data was cross-referenced with an analysis of air pollutants the week prior to the admissions.
"We found that individuals were more likely to come in with appendicitis in weeks with higher concentrations of air pollutants, specifically ozone and nitrogen dioxide," Kaplan said.
More appendicitis admissions took place during Canada's warmest months (April through September, when people are more likely to be outdoors), and men seemed more likely to be affected by air pollutants than women. It's unclear why this gender difference exists, the researchers said.
Kaplan theorizes that inflammation may explain the link -- if it proves to exist -- between air quality and appendicitis.
"It's speculative, but air pollution might be driving inflammation which triggers appendicitis," he said. "We're a few steps away before we can make that statement. We need to confirm and replicate these findings."
Kaplan and his co-authors plan more studies in multiple cities in Canad
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