-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
WEDNESDAY, June 1 (HealthDay News) -- Although the tonsils and
appendix are not considered vital to the body, Swedish researchers
have found that people who had them taken out before the age of 20
may be at a slightly greater risk of an early heart attack.
The new study linked the role of the appendix and the tonsils in
the body's immune system with the increased risk for heart
"Given the strong biological and epidemiological evidence linking inflammation with coronary heart disease [CHD], one might anticipate that surgical removal of the tonsils and appendix, with their consequent effects on immunity, might also have a long-term effect on CHD," investigator Dr. Imre Janszky, from the department of public health science of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, said in a news release from the European Society of Cardiology.
"However, we were aware of no studies evaluating the potential effects of appendectomy or tonsillectomy on atherosclerosis or CHD risk," Janszky added.
Persistent infections force roughly 10 percent to 20 percent of
young people to have their tonsils or appendix removed, the
In conducting the study, published online June 1 in the
European Heart Journal, the researchers identified 54,449 appendectomies and 27,284 tonsillectomies performed on Swedish residents under the age of 20 years. The patients were followed for an average of 23.5 years to determine how many would suffer fatal or non-fatal heart attacks.
Within the follow-up period, a total of 89 of the participants
who had had appendectomies and 47 of those who had had
tonsillectomies experienced a heart attack, the investigators
The study authors concluded that tonsillectomy increased the
relative risk of a heart attack by 44 percent, and appendectomy
increased the relative risk by 33 percent. The risk was slightly
higher for those who had both their tonsils and appendix removed,
the results showed.
Janszky noted, however, that the absolute numbers of heart
attack cases in the study were small, with slightly more than 400
and 200 total cases of heart attack in more than 7.5 million and
nearly 4 million person-years of follow-up, respectively.
"As expected from the young age of the population," he said, "the observed moderate increases in relative risk actually corresponded to very small risk increases in absolute terms."
And because the study was limited to childhood procedures and
participants were still relatively young during the follow-up
period, the findings may not apply to older people at greater risk
for heart disease, the researchers added.
The researchers also pointed out that appendectomies or
tonsillectomies could have other "complex" and long-term side
effects on the immune system, including decreased production of
The American Heart Association has more about
risk factors for heart attack.
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