When Surgery Isn’t the Only Earthly Option

By Martha Michael

Surgeon Thumbs Down

When patients consult with a doctor who prescribes surgery as a first, or only, option to treat a health issue, there’s no robot to sound the “Danger! Danger!” warning. And yet, with a decision of such gravity, that red alert could keep you from rushing into invasive treatment when you should take time to consider your medical alternatives.

First of all, you don’t want to underestimate the fact that real risks are an inherent part of surgical procedures. Though medical advances make anesthesia safer all the time, any procedure has dangers, says the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA). Obviously, in-depth discussions with your surgeon are beneficial and necessary; however, choosing a competent anesthesiologist to supervise your care can be a lifesaving decision.

ASA’s website lists several conditions that can threaten the safety of an individual undergoing surgery, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease (angina, valve disease, heart failure or a previous heart attack)
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Seizures or other neurological disorders
  • Obesity
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Lung conditions (asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD)
  • Kidney problems
  • Allergies to anesthesia or a history of adverse reactions to anesthesia

A British article about treatment for arthritis discusses surgical risks, and urges patients to ask the doctor about their particular procedure, including all the possible downsides. For instance, if undergoing surgery for arthritis, topics of discussion should include issues unrelated to anesthesia, such as risks of infection. You want to know the likelihood of surgical success, including the improvement of range of motion and function. And you may not have thought of other issues that should be part of the conversation, such as the recovery time you’ll need and downtime from work you can expect.

Behaviors That Can Impact Risk

As a patient, you want to consider some of your own behaviors that can contribute to the risks of surgery. If you drink more than two alcoholic beverages per day, or if you smoke, you increase the dangers involved when going under anesthesia, says the ASA. Smoking can cause complications with breathing, but also your recovery from the anesthesia and surgery can be plagued with risks such as pneumonia and heart attack.

Becoming the healthiest you can be is a safeguard against surgical complications, but it may also eliminate your need for invasive treatment altogether. Smoking cessation, a balanced diet, as well as specific exercises related to your condition, can decrease the need for more risky treatment.

For arthritis, weight control reduces the strain on your joints, but chiropractic care is another logical alternative to surgical options. Tapping into a chiropractor’s expertise in joint health can improve your range of motion and help remedy the debilitating pain and pressure associated with the condition.

Chiropractic Safety Net

Symptoms related to the back or neck -- or other pain caused by postural positioning -- can be addressed by your practitioner as well. If you feel your medical doctor referred you to a surgeon without adequate attention to your concerns, consider turning to your chiropractor for another opinion.

But if you robotically accept your doctor’s recommendation for surgery while other options get lost in space, you’re placing a lot of faith in your physician and little in your own understanding. Even a young Will Robinson knows Dr. Smith doesn’t always get it right.

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