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Study Reveals Tonsil Removal Surgery Risk in Adults

Surgery ComplicationsA new study reveals adults have a very high tonsil removal surgery risk. Surgery complications often include excessive bleeding, pain, fever, and other issues.

The study was published in the April issue of the journal, Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery.

The research team found that one in five adult patients who underwent a tonsillectomy suffered complications of some form.

“Researchers have been examining variation in tonsillectomy for years,” explained corresponding author, Dennis Scanlon, PhD. “Yet most research has been documented in pediatric populations. Much less is known about the safety and risks to adult patients that undergo the procedure.”

Tonsils are two masses located at the back of throat. They act as filters, blocking germs from entering the airways and causing infection. Tonsils also produce antibodies to fight infection in the body. However, some people suffer from a condition called tonsillitis. This occurs when the tonsils become infected by bacteria or viruses, and swell and become inflamed.

While tonsillitis is especially common in children, adults can also be affected by this condition. Sometimes it recurs occasionally, but if it becomes a frequent occurrence doctors commonly recommend that patients have their tonsils removed. While this is generally considered a very-low risk, outpatient procedure, this new study highlights potential difficulties for adult patients.

Study sheds light on potential surgery complications

Researchers found that while children often experience few complications with tonsillectomies, higher incidence rates are seen in adults.

A total of 36,000 patients who underwent outpatient tonsillectomy surgery from 2002 to 2007 were examined, using information from the MarketScan Commercial Claims and Encounters Database.

Dr. Meena Seshamani and her research team, from the Permanente Medical Group in San Francisco, found that 15 percent of patients suffered complications one week after the surgery. This number increased to 20 percent two to four weeks after surgery.

While most of the complications were not life threatening, some patients did require blood transfusions and more serious issues, including dislocation of cervical vertebra were reported. Roughly 11 percent of patients suffered pain, 10 percent required a trip to the emergency room, six percent experienced hemorrhage, three percent were readmitted to the hospital, and two percent reported dehydration.

Researchers found that patients who previously experienced tonsil abscesses or who had an increased amount of antibiotic prescriptions were at a higher risk to experience complications than others.

Adequate recovery time a necessity

Researchers determined that the main reason adults are more likely to experience complications following a tonsillectomy is because they don’t allow themselves a suitable recovery time.

It is also more difficult for surgeons to remove the tonsils of an adult, as they develop accumulated scar tissue in the throat area.

Patients are commonly advised to take certain precautions after surgery to prevent dehydration and hemorrhaging. It’s important to take a proper amount of rest following surgery, which adults do not always do, leading to increased rates of post-op complication.

“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. The availability of important risk or benefit information should be expedited and providers need to be trained to engage patients in how to use this information to make informed choices,” said Dr. Scanlon.