When Are Colonoscopies Too Dangerous?

Posted by Dave Tomar on August 13, 2014

When Are Colonoscopies Too Dangerous?

The colonoscopy is a routine diagnostic procedure and one with considerable potential benefits for those who receive routine screening.  And, as an article in the New York Times points out, most physicians advise that adults over 50 should regularly visit the doctor for this minor screening procedure.  However, this advice may not apply to everybody.  In fact, physicians are increasingly recognizing that for some, not only is a colonoscopy not useful or beneficial, but it may actually carry unnecessary risks. 

Age is a Primary Factor

For most adults over the age of 50, regular colonoscopy screening is an important part of preventative health maintenance.   The practice is seen as a relatively safe and efficient way to monitor the lower digestive tract for polyps or other symptoms that may develop into colon cancer.  And with considerable effort at spreading public awareness, the public health community has been fairly effective in compelling adult Americans to seek regular screening.  This is an excellent development and one that is likely to save countless lives. 

However, recent findings question whether this effort has been too sweeping.  The New York Times article points out that for those over the age of 75, it may not be necessary or advisable to have regular colonoscopy screenings.  And those over the age of 85, doctors say, shouldn’t seek the screening at all.  For these demographics, the benefits of a colonoscopy are minimal. 

Experts point out that the types of indicators illuminated by the colonoscopy will often demonstrate a long-term risk of developing colorectal cancers rather than any immediate health threat.  This means that for those at an advanced age, removal of polyps or other surgical intervention is not usually recommended.  This largely undermines the primary reason for the screening.

Breaking Old Habits

Being proactive about your health is always a great decision.  But as you get older, you may need to adjust your strategy for preventative health.  The New York Times article points out that many older adults continue to schedule screenings (and some physicians continue to recommend them), past an age where they can be beneficial.  For many who are in the habit of regularly undergoing these screenings, it may be psychologically difficult to lower your guard.

However, for older Americans, any medical procedure carries some implicit risk.  Though the colonoscopy is routine and relatively very safe, complications may occur.  In some case, according to the Mayo Clinic, unexpected bleeding or an accidental tear in the colon or rectal wall can lead to discomfort and even more serious stomach problems.  There is also always a risk of complication or adverse reaction when using sedatives, which are routinely employed to place patients under for the screening.  While the risks related to the colonoscopy are rarely fatal, any medical complication can take on added urgency when it impacts somebody of advanced age. 

This is, above all else, the most compelling reason for seniors to discontinue colonoscopy screening after the age of 75, because this is the age at which the risks begin to outweigh the benefits.   

Promoting Your Well-Being As You Age

Although a colonoscopy screening isn’t necessary after the age of 75, there are still plenty of ways you can promote your overall health as you age. In addition to eating a healthy diet, staying physically active and attending regular health checkups with your general physician, investing in a Medical Guardian medical alert device is another essential component of healthy aging. Whether you’re looking to ensure your safety at home or everywhere you go, Medical Guardian is guaranteed to have the product that fits your lifestyle and budget. 


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