New research from the University of Calgary suggests high levels of air pollution may increase the risk of appendicitis.

Researchers looked at more than 5,000 adults who were hospitalized for appendicitis in Calgary between 1999 and 2006, and compared their cases to data from Environment Canada on hourly levels of ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide.

The study, presented on Monday at the annual scientific meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology in Florida, found that appendicitis cases increased when concentrations of air pollutants went up, particularly during the summer, when people were most likely to be outside.

'It's not something that I think anyone would have predicted but they looked at it and there was an association and I think it's very provocative.' — Dr. Lawrence Schiller

Principal investigator Dr. Gilaad Kaplan said the study is a good first step to uncovering the cause of appendicitis.

"Right now, the only kind of management option we have is operation. We operate on them today in 2008 just like we operated on them in 1908. The only thing that's different is our advances in surgical techniques," he told CBC News.

"But what hasn't changed is our understanding of the pathogenesis of the disease and if we can identify or understand why the disease is caused, we'll have better diagnostic tests. We might have alternative options to surgery."

Researcher hopes to replicate study in other Canadian cities

Dr. Lawrence Schiller, program director of the Gastroenterology Fellowship Program at Baylor Hospital in Dallas, Texas, found the research and its premise interesting.

"It's not something that I think anyone would have predicted but they looked at it and there was an association and I think it's very provocative," said Schiller.

"We don't normally think of environmental influences on something like appendicitis. The idea that something in the environment might trigger something like that is very novel."

Kaplan said his team is working on executing the study in other Canadian cities to see if air pollution is a main factor in appendicitis, or just one of many causes.

"Air pollution is a modifiable factor, meaning that if we can reduce air pollution in society, we may be able to prevent some cases of appendicitis and as a physician and an epidemiologist, we strive for prevention," he said.

With files from the Canadian Press