Travis Barker, an American musician and drummer for the rock band Blink-182, was hospitalized on Tuesday with pancreatitis, TMZ first reported. The musician had endured “extreme stomach pain,” according to People magazine, and was later wheeled into Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on a stretcher and accompanied by his wife, Kourtney Kardashian.
It’s unclear exactly when Barker had a colonoscopy (some reports say that it was “recently”), but it has many wondering if the two events are linked. Here’s what you need to know.
What are the common complications of a colonoscopy?
Colonoscopy is a procedure often used to screen for colon cancer that has been performed by gastroenterologists since it was introduced in 1969. During the procedure, doctors guide a long, flexible tube called an endoscope into the rectum and colon. A camera at the end of the endoscope allows doctors to see the inside of the colon and to remove polyps that could become cancerous.
“Colonoscopy is very, very safe,” said Dr. Avinash Ketwaroo, a gastroenterologist who specializes in endoscopic procedures at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “It’s been extraordinarily successful in reducing the risk of colon cancer.”
Dr. Ketwaroo noted that millions of colonoscopies are performed in the United States each year, and that it takes years of training on hundreds of cases before a gastroenterologist can do them independently. Serious risks of the procedure are rare. They include perforation (a small tear in the intestine that usually occurs in fewer than one in 1,000 patients), bleeding (which can occur as often as in two or in three in 100 patients, especially if a polyp is removed or if the patient is on a blood thinner) and infection. The anesthesia used for the procedure also carries risks.
Though less serious, abdominal discomfort is not uncommon after colonoscopy, said Dr. Kavel Visrodia, a gastroenterologist at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center who studies improving the safety of endoscopy. Cramping or bloating after the procedure is usually caused by the carbon dioxide used to inflate the colon and to better visualize possible polyps. “Typically, that discomfort will subside within a few hours after the procedure as that gas is resorbed or passed,” Dr. Visrodia said.
What is pancreatitis?
The pancreas is an important organ for digestion that produces enzymes that help to break down food as well as hormones, like insulin, that regulate sugar in the blood. Pancreatitis occurs when the organ becomes inflamed and can produce a variety of symptoms like abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, Dr. Visrodia said. The abdominal pain sometimes radiates to the back and can be debilitating, preventing patients from being able to eat or drink.
“When we see acute pancreatitis, it’s typically managed with intravenous hydration, analgesics for pain control and antiemetics for nausea,” he said. Physicians may run several tests to try to figure out what caused the pancreatitis such as gallstones, alcohol, certain medications or autoimmune disease. In extreme cases, pancreatitis can lead to major problems in the body, including kidney injury or respiratory distress.
Is pancreatitis a common complication from colonoscopy?
No. In a recent study that analyzed the experiences of nearly 80,000 patients who had the procedure, pancreatitis was not even described as a risk of colonoscopy.
“It would be an extremely rare complication,” Dr. Ketwaroo said. “So rare that it’s at the level of what we call case reports, which means it occurs perhaps one in every million colonoscopies.”
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There is, however, a highly specialized endoscopic procedure called an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, or ERCP, that “tends to irritate the pancreas,” Dr. Visrodia said. But this is very different from a colonoscopy or even from a standard upper endoscopy, he explained. ERCP involves passing an endoscope through the mouth and into the small intestine to manipulate the bile and pancreatic ducts. Because that area is immediately adjacent to the pancreas, pancreatitis is not a wholly surprising complication.
When should someone contact a doctor after a colonoscopy?
While abdominal discomfort is possible immediately after a colonoscopy, it should not be severe or persist, Dr. Ketwaroo said. Abdominal pain that lasts into the night, blood in the stool (which can sometimes look black or tarry) or fever should prompt patients to contact a doctor or go to the emergency room.
Last year, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force lowered the recommended age for colorectal cancer screening to 45 from 50. “There’s a rising incidence of colon cancer, especially among those who are younger,” Dr. Ketwaroo said. The average lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer for men is one in 23 and for women, one in 25. Barker, who is 46, is within the window of eligibility for screening, but the reason he had a colonoscopy has not been disclosed.
It’s a procedure “that’s been around for many decades,” Dr. Visrodia said. “If you’re concerned about the risks associated with colonoscopy, I would recommend discussing them with your physician before letting them potentially deter you from picking up on an early colon cancer.”
Dr. Trisha Pasricha is a writer and physician at Massachusetts General Hospital. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and The Atlantic.
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