Colonoscopy is a standard test for diagnosing life-threatening colon cancer cases. However, colonoscopy risks to the elderly should be given more emphasis, as increase in medical complications accompanying this invasive procedure are seen with increase in age.
As the term signifies, colonoscopy is a diagnostic procedure performed for detailed examination of the colon and rectum. Regarded as a reliable approach for ruling out colon cancer, this visual examination test is conducted in an empty bowel under general anesthesia. But, according to recent studies, colonoscopy risks to the elderly may outweigh the advantages, which are expected from the test. The results state that adults of a certain age group who have been through colonoscopy are at an increased risk to medical complications than others falling in the same age group.
Colonoscopy Procedure in Brief
It is the responsibility of the candidate to fully cooperate with the doctor, and follow the colonoscopy prep steps properly. Otherwise, the success rate of this diagnostic test is doubtful. During the colonoscopy test, a colonoscope (flexible, 4 feet long and ½ inch diameter, tube like instrument) is introduced inside the large intestine via the rectum. The instrument is equipped with a light source and a camera, allowing the gastroenterologist to examine the inside of colon. Also, it is applicable for collection of biopsy sample and identification and removal of polyps (polypectomy) from the colon.
Colonoscopy Risks for Elderly Patients
For adults in a healthy state, the complications of colonoscopy are negligible, and occur in about 0.35% cases. But, the dangers it poses are unavoidable for a certain group of patients. So, who are at a high risk to colonoscopy procedure? Patients who are 80 years and above, especially those who have a medical history of diabetes and cardiovascular disorders are at the highest risk. Also, if the procedure encompasses polypectomy, adverse events are further elevated. The virtual colonoscopy risks occur before, during and after the procedure. The possible instances include the following.
- Colonoscopy risks to the elderly are present even before the actual test, i.e., during bowel preparation. The concerned physician usually hands out a list of things to be done for emptying the bowel completely. While preparing the bowel for colonoscopy, elderly patients may experience nauseated feeling, vomiting, weakness and at other times, fainting.
- A commonly exhibited complication of colonoscopy is heavy bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract. Being an invasive procedure, it is an obvious risk for all patients. Some medical reports reveal that the likeliness of colonoscopy bleeding is 75% higher for 80 to 84-year-old patients, as compared to people below 70 years.
- Colon perforation is another complication that may occur during and after one month of the procedure. What happens is, the colonoscope punctures the soft tissue lining of the large intestine, resulting in tissue tear or hole. While it may happen to every candidate, elderly people are at a greater risk owing to the tissue changes in the colonic wall brought about by aging.
- Elderly patients have higher chances of manifesting adverse effects to medications used before and during the colonoscopy procedure. The medications include colon cleansing agents advocated during the bowel preparation, anesthesia and others. While it is not so common, life-threatening complications do occur due to medication effects.
- The post colonoscopy risks for elderly patients include infection, the probability of which, is quite low. This is often caused due to improperly sterilized instruments used in the test. It is not a serious case, and can be managed with antimicrobial drugs.
Taking colonoscopy risks into consideration in case of elderly patients, it necessary to conduct a thorough research about the benefits and complications, a prerequisite before actually performing the test. There is no denying the fact that colon cancer diagnosed at the earliest date responds well to treatment approaches. But, neglecting the dangers of colonoscopy doesn’t make sense, as the test itself is associated with added complications. Thus, for elderly people, it should be proceeded only when necessary, that too after careful assessment of the colonoscopy risks and benefits.
To conclude with, people who are 85 years old and above are two times more likely to experience colonoscopy complications than patients falling in the age group of 66 to 69 years. According to health experts, patients aged above 80 years should go for a minimally invasive fecal occult test for diagnosing colorectal cancers. It involves collecting stool samples for confirming presence of blood cells. And if the test result shows suspected colon cancer, colonoscopy is performed for confirmation. This way, the risk factors can be minimized in older patients, who are not fit enough for invasive tests.