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Parkinson risk tied to appendix removal

Written by Dr. Daliah Wachs
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Those who have had their appendix removed may be at 3X greater risk of later developing Parkinson’s.

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center looked at 62 million health records from 26 institutions throughout the US and found that those who had an appendectomy, surgical removal of the appendix, had a 3-fold risk of developing Parkinson’s later in life.

Internal medicine second year resident and study author, Dr. Mohammed Z. Sheriff, states,

“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.”
“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.”

Researchers suggest more research to be done, with investigational focus on gut health as it relates to neurological health.

The Appendix: NOT a useless organ

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder, next to Alzheimer’s, and the most common movement disorder that affects 1% of the world’s population over 60 years old. In the US, 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.  It affects several areas of the brain, primarily the substantia nigra, altering balance and movement by affecting dopamine producing cells.

It was first described in 1817 by James Parkinson as a “shaking palsy.”

What are the Symptoms of Parkinson’s?

Common symptoms of Parkinson’s include:

  • Stiffness and rigidity
  • Poor balance
  • Tremor at rest, especially a pill-rolling tremor
  • Slow movement
  • Inability to move
  • Shuffling steps, gait

and patients may later develop…

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Memory loss
  • Constipation
  • Decrease ability to smell
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Pneumonia
  • Fractures from falling
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Dementia

Who is at Risk for Parkinson’s?

Most cases are idiopathic, meaning the disease arises with no specific cause.  However some cases are genetic and multiple genes have been identified that are associated with the disease.

The average age of onset is 60, but some cases may occur as “early onset”, before the age of 50, and if before the age of 20, it is known as juvenile-onset Parkinson’s.

Men appear to be more affected than women at twice the rate.

Risk may be enhanced with a history of head trauma.

Exposure to herbicides and pesticides has been linked to an increase risk of Parkinson’s as well.

How Quickly do Parkinson’s Symptoms Progress?

Average progression rates can last years to decades, however, earlier onset disease may manifest much quicker.

How is Parkinson’s treated?

Although there is no cure for Parkinson’s, symptoms can be treated by a variety of measures.

  • Levadopa – converts to dopamine in the brain, helping replace the deficient hormone.
  • Carbidopa (Sinemet) – if given with levadopa prevents the latter from being broken down before it reaches the brain.
  • Dopamine agonists – mimic dopamine
  • MAO-B inhibitors – helps block the enzyme MAO-B, which breaks down natural dopamine
  • Other medications including COMT inhibitors, amantadine and anticholinergics
  • Medications to treat anxiety and depression
  • Deep brain stimulation – a surgeon implants electrodes into the brain, allowing stimulation of parts that help regulate movement.
  • Stem cell therapy – being investigated as a means to create dopamine-producing cells
  • Physical and occupational therapy

Famous People Diagnosed with Parkinson’s

  • Michael J. Fox
  • Janet Reno
  • Robin Williams
  • Muhammad Ali
  • Casey Kasem
  • Johnny Cash
  • Linda Ronstadt
  • Pope John Paul II
  • Peanut’s creator Charles Schulz
  • Rev. Jesse Jackson
  • Neil Diamond

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Daliah Wachs is a guest contributor to GCN news, her views and opinions, medical or otherwise, if expressed, are her own. Doctor Wachs is an MD,  FAAFP and a Board Certified Family Physician.  The Dr. Daliah Show , is nationally syndicated M-F from 11:00 am - 2:00 pm and Saturday from Noon-1:00 pm (all central times) at GCN.