Fear of the unknown is an unpleasant emotion – much like walking into a darkened room and not knowing what lurks within. That's the way some people feel about getting a colonoscopy. If you haven't had one, the thought of such an invasive procedure may scare the wits out of you.
The majority of patients do well after a colonoscopy. But there could be serious side effects, if the procedure is performed improperly. For example, there have been reports of lower-extremity nerve palsy, infections as a result of badly sterilized equipment, intense spasmodic pain, soreness and bloating, excessive bleeding if a large polyp is removed, and years of irregularity.
Sound risky? The risk is minimum, however, considering that tens of thousands of individuals each year get the procedure done and walk out of the doctor's office without any adverse reactions. To ease one's fears, though, more information has to be provided before and after the procedure is done.
Doctors recommend a colonoscopy to make sure the colon is free of tumors, polyps, ulcers, bleeding and inflammation inside your body. It is a visual examination using a thin flexible tube called a colonoscope that has a camera and light attached to it to look at the interior lining of the large intestines and rectum.
There is something else to worry about besides adverse reactions – the dreaded hospital bill. The cost of a colonoscopy varies depending on the geographic region and provider. Uninsured patients, for example, could pay anywhere from $2,000 to nearly $4,000, according to BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina.
In the United States, the annual cost billed to insurance companies averages about $60 billion per year in colonoscopy services performed by some type of health care provider. I'm wondering, though, since the procedure is so expensive, do we really need one done?
Prevention should be our No. 1 goal. However, a colonoscopy is just one way of screening for cancer, abnormal growths, such as polyps, and various diseases of the colon. Doctors generally recommend a colonoscopy after a patient reaches a certain age, or if he or she feels one is needed to restore an unhealthy colon.
I read an article recently where a couple in New York thought their insurance company would pay for two colonoscopies. To their surprise, they were billed $1,600 by an anesthesiologist. This cost was not factored in their insurance, they were told. They were dumbfounded, not expecting to ante up any money after the procedure.
The couple had used a gastroenterologist, who was recommended by their insurance company to administer anesthesia, because they were required to use someone in their network of primary care physicians. They did just what was required but didn't expect the outcome.
I'm not an expert in this field, but I thought there is a difference between anesthesia and sedation. I assume most individuals who get a colonoscopy done are usually sedated to begin the procedure. The couple in New York basically took a very expensive nap.
But I will say this: If getting a colonoscopy is needed to prevent cancer and other abnormalities of the colon, then the cost of the procedure just may be an equal trade. This is not a perfect world, and trying to stay healthy can be very costly. It would be cost-effective, in my opinion, if more money were spent on prevention instead of detection. But I'm just a plant-based chef.
In his book, "The China Study," Dr. T Colin Campbell points out that the main cause of cancer in the United States is our toxic diet. The point he is making in the book is that illnesses and diseases can be prevented with a diet of fruits and vegetables – which I've written extensively about in this column.
As a vegan, 90 percent of my daily calorie intake comes from a plant-based diet. With such a diet, I've lowered my chances of developing colon cancer and any other catastrophic disease.
The bottom line is if you eat right, you won't have to worry much about your colon or the anesthesiologist who will put you to sleep for a whopping $1,600.