The Risks of Colonoscopy

What are the risks of colonoscopy?

risks of colonoscopyRisks of colonoscopy are sometimes overshadowed by their importance in detecting colon cancer early. Every medical procedure has its risks, including colonoscopy. However, a modern colonoscopy is an extremely safe procedure when done by the right professional. Dr. Jeffrey Weber discusses some of the risks of colonoscopy in this video.

The most feared complication, perforation of the colon, happens in less than 1 in 10,000 cases. Taking polyps out does increase risk of the procedure depending on the number and size. Most likely you will feel like nothing happened after your colonoscopy.

Video Transcripts

Jeffrey Weber, MD: Colonoscopy in the right hands is an extremely safe procedure. It is an outpatient procedure done under sedation, should be painless, should be easy and should be without difficulty. There are, however, potential complications. There is always the most feared complication which is perforation of the colon, this occurs probably less than 1 in 10,000 amongst good physicians doing the procedure, it is when the colon is torn by the colonoscope. This can be fixed at the time of colonoscopy by clipping the colon shut usually without further incident but often times, patients have to go to surgery to repair this. It is, as I said, extremely unusual.

Taking out polyps however increases risk of the procedure as well. Small polyps are removed by just pinching them off with an alligator forceps, completely safe, there is no risk of bleeding, no risk of hurting the colon. Larger polyps are removed with snares which are wire loops which we lasso around the base of the polyp and remove it either with cautery for larger polyps or without cautery or burning if the polyps are very small. These are very safe but they do have the potential if the polyps are very large of burning too deeply and causing a perforation. Generally, that is a late complication where actually the patient will feel good for several hours, go home and then develop severe abdominal pain and have to rush back to the hospital and have this repaired usually surgically.

If you remove a polyp with cautery, it leaves behind a burn mark and this burn will turn into a scab and it takes 14 days for it to heal. At some point, during that 14 days, like all scabs, the scab is going to fall off and it does have the potential of bleeding at that time. This potentially is increased if the patient reverts back to taking aspirin or nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs after a colonoscopy. We tell patients who have cautery do not take these drugs and the risk is minimized. That risk is still very small but it is like all other complications, potentially serious and what I like to tell my patients is that after a colonoscopy, you should feel fine.

I have had three myself, very little discomfort if any discomfort afterwards. You go home, you eat a meal, you should feel like nothing happened, you should actually feel quite good because hopefully, you have been given good news and you are back to eating and your life carries on as normal.

Dr. Jeffrey Weber
Dr. Jeffrey Weber, Chief of Medicine at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) at Western Regional Medical Center, earned a medical degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he also earned a bachelor’s degree. Following medical school, Dr. Weber completed both an internship and residency in internal medicine at the Georgetown Division of the District of Columbia General Hospital in Washington, D.C. He then moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin and completed a fellowship in gastroenterology at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
Dr. Jeffrey Weber

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