Many women struggle with infertility, shelling out thousands of dollars on drugs and IVF treatments, but researchers have now discovered something else that seems to help improve fertility. In a new study, researchers report that women who have had their appendix or tonsils removed have a higher chance of becoming pregnant, although scientists have no idea why.
The study comes from Dr. Sami Shimi and other researchers at the University of Dundee in the United Kingdom, and they published their findings in the journal Fertility and Sterility. The prevailing medical wisdom had been that having an appendectomy, surgery to remove the appendix, could reduce a woman’s chances of becoming pregnant. The researchers decided to look into this and find out if women really did face reduced fertility if they had their appendix removed.
To discover if the link between appendix removal and reduced fertility really does exist, the researchers used data from the UK Clinical Practice Research Databank, which includes medical records from primary care, between the years 1987 and 2012. The researchers compared 54,675 patients who had an appendectomy, 112,607 patients who had their tonsils removed, 10,340 patients who had both surgeries, and 355,244 women of a similar age who had neither surgery. The researchers looked at how many women in each group became pregnant and how long after their surgery they became pregnant.
Women who had neither surgery had a 43.7 percent chance of becoming pregnant. Surprisingly, women who had a tonsillectomy had a 53.4 percent chance of pregnancy and women who had an appendectomy had a slightly higher chance, at 54.4. Women who had both a tonsillectomy and an appendectomy had the highest chance of pregnancy, at 59.7 percent. The women with both surgeries also had the shortest time to pregnancy of the four groups. Contrary to what doctors have always believed, this seems to indicate that women who have their appendix removed actually have a greater chance of pregnancy compared to their peers who still have their appendix.
Both appendectomies and tonsillectomies are common surgeries, and women facing these surgeries may have been worried about their ability to have children later in life. Now these women can rest assured that this type of surgery will not hurt their ability to become pregnant. However, the study authors warn that women should not be rushing out to have their tonsils or appendix removed to improve their chance of conceiving, since any surgery does involve potential risk and the study does not prove that removing these organs increases the chance of pregnancy.
As the study authors turn the prevailing medical wisdom on its head with their results, they are still not sure why there seems to be a link between surgery and increased fertility. There may be a link to inflammation, the researchers speculate. Doctors tend to remove the appendix or tonsils when they become inflamed, and with less inflammation in the body, these women may have an easier time becoming pregnant. The authors think that women who are more sexually active may be experiencing pelvic inflammatory disease, in turn triggering the inflammation in the other organs. By nature of their behavior, these same sexually-active women will have a statistically-higher chance of becoming pregnant. The study authors call for more research to determine why there is a link between appendix and tonsil removal surgeries and higher fertility.
The presence of tonsils and appendix in a woman’s body are also not the only factor that may be affecting infertility. Up to fifteen percent of couples in the United States have infertility, which is defined as not becoming pregnant after a year of frequent sex without birth control. In about a third of cases of infertility, the woman is experiencing a problem, in about a third of cases the man is experiencing a problem, and in the other third of cases, both sexual partners suffer from infertility. Men may experience infertility if they have health issues that reduce the quantity and quality of their sperm; if they have a blockage or other reason their sperm cannot exit their body, if they have had cancer treatments; or if they have been exposed to environmental factors such as heat, chemicals, or radiation. Women may be infertile because hormonal imbalances are preventing ovulation; inflammation or tumors are blocking their fallopian tubes or uterus; they have scar tissue or endometriosis, which is tissue that usually grows in the uterus instead growing in other places such as the ovaries or fallopian tubes; they are undergoing early menopause; or they have had negative side effects of cancer treatments. If any of these are the case, then removing the appendix or tonsils will not cure the infertility, but doctors do have other medical interventions, such as drugs, surgery, and in vitro fertilization treatments, that can help infertile couples have a child.