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Anesthesia During Colonoscopies: Research Shows Excessive Use

The health care industry has issued many reminders to people 50 and over to get colonoscopies. And indeed, many people do, as the risk of failing to diagnose potential cancer is a strong motivating force.

Recently, however, the issue of excessive sedation during colonoscopy procedures has been in the news. This, in turn, increases concerns about anesthesia errors, as well as unnecessary costs.

Anesthesiologist mistakes are a serious matter. Powerful chemicals are involved. For example, one drug that is often used for anesthesia is propofol - the drug that was involved in the death of the entertainer Michael Jackson.

Excessive anesthesia can cause problems with blood flow to the brain, which can cause brain damage.

A recent survey indicates that more sedation is often used during colonoscopies than is really necessary.

In a study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that the percentage of colonoscopies involving an anesthesiologist more than doubled in only six years. In 2003, the figure was 14 percent. By 2009, it had increased to 30 percent.

Overall, the researchers estimated that excessive sedation during colonoscopies adds almost a billion dollars a year to U.S. healthcare costs.

To be sure, for high-risk patients, having an anesthesiologist monitor the patient during a colonoscopy may make sense. But widespread use of more anesthesia than is really needed is definitely not a good practice.

In the case of propofol, it could be that doctors need to do a better job of explaining the risks. There is a fine line, however, between deeply sedating someone and causing them to stop breathing.

Source: "Study: Colonoscopies often come with costly, unnecessary sedation," CBS News, 3-20-12

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