The Truth About Colonoscopies

While certainly not the most pleasant subject for many people, colonoscopies have become a relatively common procedure in our healthcare system. But are they safe, and what are the downsides that you haven’t heard about?

The first question to ask is why are colonoscopies so common? Primarily, it seems to be in relation to the second most common form of cancer to kill people: colon cancer. Often, doctors choose for patients to have a colonoscopy instead of opting for other, less invasive diagnostic options such as fecal occult blood testing (FOBT) every year to check for blood in the stool. Why they do not review FOBT or a flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years is anyone’s guess, though, it may simply be for their own convenience so they do not have to discuss a variety of (all unpleasant) options with their patients or for the financial benefit or procedural referrals.

Unfortunately, with the choice of colonoscopy come a variety of risks. Dr. Mercola writes,

“[A]bout 1 in every 350 colonoscopies end up doing serious harm. Death from colonoscopy, while rare, also does occur.

“The death rate is about 1 for every 1,000 procedures, and with 15 million colonoscopies being done each year in the U.S., that means about 15,000 Americans die as a result of this routine procedure.”

In light of the fact that sigmoidoscopies having ten times fewer complications than colonscopies, you may want to be better informed before going that route. According to Dr. Mercola, potential risks of having a colonoscopy done include:

  • Perforation of the colon
  • Dysbiosis and other gut imbalances
  • Complications from the anesthesia
  • False positives
  • Infections caused by improperly disinfected scopes

Dr. Mercola recommends being sure that, if you have a colonoscopy, the scope is cleaned with peracetic acid to prevent infection being passed on from previous patients. Dr. Mercola again writes,

“How will you know how any given facility cleans their scopes? You have to ask. If you’re having a colonoscopy or any other procedure using a flexible endoscope done, be sure to ask:

  • How is the endoscope cleaned between patients?
  • Specifically, which cleaning agent is used?
  • How many of your colonoscopy patients have had to be hospitalized due to infections?

“If the hospital or clinic uses peracetic acid, your likelihood of contracting an infection from a previous patient is very slim. If the answer is glutaraldehyde, or the brand name Cidex (which is what 80 percent of clinics use), cancel your appointment and go elsewhere. As for the third and last question, the answer you want is zero.

If your doctor recommends a colonoscopy for you, go in with your eyes open. Ask questions and get answers that satisfy you. It’s your health. You have a right to ensure that this procedure, if you opt for it instead of the other diagnostic options, is performed in a safe manner for you.