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Tuesday, 18 December 2018 10:00

Are colonoscopies in the elderly really necessary?

Colonoscopies in the elderly are one of the most dreaded medical procedures due to the high risk of bowel perforation, infection and the fact that you need to undergo sedation or even anaesthetics in some cases.

The question remains, is a colonoscopy really necessary in the elderly and what are the reasons behind having one?

What is a colonoscopy?

This is a procedure which allows a doctor to take an inside look at the function and performance of the entire colon and rectum. Most commonly, a doctor would be looking for ulcers, inflamed tissue or abnormal growths – which can be commonplace amongst the elderly.

Some of the most common reasons a senior would undergo a colonoscopy include:

  • Checking for colorectal cancer or other inflammatory conditions such as ulcerative colitis.
  • Follow up surveillance of the bowel if a senior has a history of cancer, colon polyps or inflammatory bowel disease.
  • To seal off intestinal bleeding or open up colonic blockages.
  • Removal of colon polyps or any other internal growths.

Is a colonoscopy really necessary?

Once you reach a certain age, questions begin to arise as to whether a colonoscopy is really worthwhile considering the many risk factors. The truth of the matter is; a colonoscopy may not be necessary if:

  • A senior is 75 years old or older

Many experts have ruled out the need to undergo a colonoscopy for preventative or early detection of disease if you are 75-85 years old. Instead, this treatment is only recommended on a case-by-case basis. The simple fact of the matter is that not everyone aged 75 years or older will benefit from a colonoscopy due to the increased risks as you grow older.

  • You’ve had a colonoscopy in the last ten years

According to researchers, it takes approximately ten years or more for precancerous polyps to develop inside the colon before cancer is detected. This means that if you have no risk factors, family history or issues with your colon, then a colonoscopy is not necessary more than once every 10 years.

  • Less invasive tests could be done instead

Yes, a colonoscopy is the most thorough way to inspect and assess the health of your bowels, but if another test can be carried out instead, this may be the route to go for seniors.

Alternatives to a colonoscopy include a CT scan of the entire colon, known as a colonography, an x-ray of your colon, known as a double contrast barium enema, faecal DNA testing, faecal blood testing or sigmoidoscopy which is a scope inserted into the lower third of the colon.

Ultimately, if you are unhappy with a doctor diagnosis and the necessity to undergo a colonoscopy for an elderly loved one, you have the right to a second opinion!

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