Doctors looking at brain scan

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CLEVELAND — Getting your appendix removed increases the chances you’ll develop Parkinson’s Disease, a new study finds.

Researchers from Case Western Reserve University say their study is the largest to examine the possible link between having an appendectomy and Parkinson’s risk. Doctors point to a protein that’s often found within Lewy bodies, which are protein clumps that are considered the hallmark of Parkinson’s, as the reason for zeroing in on the appendix.

“Recent research into the cause of Parkinson’s has centered around alpha synuclein, a protein found in the gastrointestinal tract early in the onset of Parkinson’s,” explains lead author Dr. Mohammed Z. Sheriff,  a physician at Case Western and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, in a statement. “This is why scientists around the world have been looking into the gastrointestinal tract, including the appendix, for evidence about the development of Parkinson’s.”

Sheriff and his team obtained data on 62.2 million patients from an Ohio-based electronic health records company affiliated with 26 major health systems. They found that 488,190 patients had undergone appendectomies. Of that group, 4,470 patients (.92%) were later diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Though only a small number, it’s significantly more than .29% of the 61.7 million patients who did not have their appendix removed, but did develop Parkinson’s.

The risk was found to be similar for patients of all ages, genders, and races.

“This research shows a clear relationship between the appendix, or appendix removal, and Parkinson’s disease, but it is only an association,” says Sheriff. “Additional research is needed to confirm this connection and to better understand the mechanisms involved.”

The study will be presented at the annual Digestive Disease Week conference in San Diego.

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