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operationMany people will never have to experience emergency surgery. But for approximately three million people a year, surgery is a necessity. When most think of surgery, their mind is flooded with terms like ‘dangerous,’ ‘expensive’ and ‘complications.’ While those fears are far from irrational, many surgeries are routine procedures that have positive outcomes and high success rates.

However, there are seven surgeries that can be something to worry about. After analyzing 421,476 patient records, researchers found that the following seven procedures account for approximately 80% of all admissions, inpatient costs, complications and deaths:

  • Removing part of the colon
  • Small bowel resection
  • Gall bladder removal
  • Procedures to repair torn or bleeding ulcer
  • Removal of abdominal adhesions
  • Open abdominal surgery
  • Appendectomy

These surgeries also cause “four out of five emergency general-surgery deaths in the United States,” the study found.

What do all of these surgeries all have in common? They all involve operating on or near the digestive tract.  When asked why abdominal surgeries can be the most dangerous, Dr. Joaquim Havens explained:

“Our gastrointestinal tract is just so specialized and so critical to our existence. We think it’s easy to operate on, but then in practice it’s very difficult for patients. We find that even patients who undergo open heart surgery can have better outcomes than patients that undergo open intestinal surgery.”

One of the reasons bowel and colon surgeries are so risky is because these procedures are performed in an emergency situation (e.g. for patients with bowel obstruction), with little to no time for preparation. As a result, the bowel does not have a chance to be cleansed, opening up the possibility of serious complications resulting from infection. Infection can lead to a vicious cycle of abdominal adhesions, repeat surgeries and long-term use of prescription medications.

During their research, the team found an overall death rate of 1.2%, complication rate of 15% and an average cost of $13,241 associated with these seven surgeries, suggesting they are a highly risky and expensive undertaking for the medical field. Researchers noted that concrete statistics, such as those produced in this study, can help medical professionals to set relevant benchmarks and examine ways of making such procedures safer and less costly.

The good news is that patients can take steps to minimize their chance of needing one of these surgeries. Abdominal adhesions, for example, can be effectively treated using non-surgical methods such as a manual physical therapy for adhesions. People with ulcers can minimize risks by following the proper medication regimen provided by their doctor.

In addition, patients can help maintain their health by seeking appropriate medical attention when abdominal pain persists more than several hours. Lastly, eating a balanced diet and drinking plenty of water is one of the best ways of supporting a healthy digestive tract.