Shocking 20 percent of adult tonsillectomies have medical complications

Tuesday, April 29, 2014 by: Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
Tags: tonsillectomies, medical complications, routine surgery

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(NaturalNews) More people than previously thought suffer from complications following tonsillectomy surgery, says a new study published in the April 2014 issue of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery. Researchers from Penn State University (PSU) and several other institutions learned that, despite the popularity of the procedure, as many as 20 percent of all adult patients who undergo a tonsillectomy suffer from complications, including postoperative hemorrhage.

Gathering data from the Truven Health MarketScan Database, which provides data analytics for health research purposes, as well as from the Kaiser San Francisco Medical Center, the team looked at complication rates among 36,210 adult patients who underwent a tonsillectomy. Of these, 10 percent had visited an emergency room following the procedure, with 1.5 percent having been admitted to a hospital within two weeks of the procedure.

One in 11 tonsillectomy patients suffers complications within two weeks

Overall, 20 percent of the patients suffered some kind of complication following the tonsillectomy, with 6 percent having been treated for postoperative hemorrhage. Eleven percent of the patients were treated for pain stemming in the ear, nose or throat within 14 days of surgery, while 2 percent were treated for dehydration. Each of these percentages was found to be significantly higher than what was previously assumed for tonsillectomies.

Also disturbing are the enormous healthcare costs associated with followup treatment for complications arising from a tonsillectomy. Besides the average $3,832 associated with the procedure itself, complications can nearly double this amount, with combined costs for a tonsillectomy and followup treatment for hemorrhage, for instance, averaging $6,388.

Most patients are unaware of the true risks associated with the tonsillectomy procedure because data such as this have never been properly investigated, let alone published for review. As a result, many people agree to undergo a tonsillectomy on the false assumption that its risks are minimal due to its many years in the common medical practice, which is simply not the case.

"Our results highlight the challenges patients face when making informed decisions about medical and surgical treatments, as well as the excess costs and harm incurred due to complications," stated Dennis Scanlon, a professor of health policy and administration at PSU. "Patients expect to compare the risks and benefits of treatment options, but as our study shows, credible patient-centered information is often lacking, even for a common procedure that has been in practice for many, many years."

Parents should think twice before subjecting their children to tonsillectomy

These findings are especially pertinent in light of the growing popularity of tonsillectomies for children. Recent reports have highlighted a number of deaths associated with the procedure, including the 2010 death of 12-year-old Carly Jane Liptak. The Florida girl was reportedly given the routine procedure at Mease Countryside Hospital in Safety Harbor, only to suffer a severe reaction that ended up killing her just days later.

You may also recall the story of 13-year-old Jahi McMath from Oakland, California. As we previously reported, young Jahi had no preexisting health problems prior to her tonsillectomy but ended up suffering cardiac arrest which left her in a vegetative, brain-dead state. Jahi's family has since been in a battle with Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland, which wants to pull the plug on Jahi, to save their daughter.

"The availability of important risk and benefit information should be expedited," adds Scanlon. "And providers need to be trained to engage patients in how to use this information to make informed choices."

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