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25 Riskiest Medical Procedures

Breast Reduction

Physically, there’s always the potential for scarring or poor workmanship when getting a breast reduction. One of the most common is decreased sensitivity in the nipple area, which occurs up to 70% of the time. Additionally, there's a chance that you could experience tissue necrosis (aka tissue death), excessive firmness, deep vein thrombosis, or persistent pain. After the surgery, the breast reduction also has a chance to interfere with certain diagnostic procedures, limit the ability to breastfeed, and can alter the outcome after pregnancy. 

CT Scan

CT scans are one of the largest contributors to radiation exposure and can result in a greatly increased risk for death by cancer. In most cases, a traditional X-ray can be less dangerous and more informative. When doctors recommend a full body CT scan, it’s important to ask questions to find out if it’s really necessary.

Organ Transplant

Patients requiring any sort of organ transplant are already in poor health, which immediately increases the inherent surgical risks. Once the transplant is complete, the most serious complication is the fact that the body may reject the new organ. According to Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, liver and intestinal transplants present the highest risk of all. 

Penile Enlargement

When pumps, creams, and pills don’t work, some men turn to surgical options to enhance their manhood. While there are a few different methods to increase length or girth, there haven’t been nearly enough studies done to prove efficacy, and no prominent medical organization endorses them. In severe cases, these surgeries can result in less sensitivity, erectile dysfunction, and nerve damage. Additionally, it’s also possible that the scarring from the surgery may actually make the penis shorter. 

Epilepsy Surgery

While some people with epilepsy face seizures only occasionally, others may have up to a hundred over the course of 24 hours. Medication is typically the first course of action, but when that fails, surgery may be suggested. It may be highly effective for some, but it also has the potential to leave patients with serious motor impairments, paralysis, memory loss, or even increased seizures. Brain surgeries of all types most certainly come with the highest risks of any surgical procedure.

Transvaginal Mesh

Resulting in thousands of lawsuits, transvaginal mesh was originally intended to help women with vaginal prolapse and stress urinary incontinence. However, the FDA finally declared it was doing more harm than good. Studies show that side effects such as tissue erosion and organ perforation occur at an alarming rate, and generally negate the potential benefits of transvaginal mesh. 

Gastric Bypass

The main risk of gastric bypass is the weight of the patients. Most medical procedures are riskier on someone who is overweight, and larger patients are also more susceptible to postsurgical problems, such as pneumonia. During gastric bypass it can be difficult to find a vein to administer IV fluids, more anesthetics may be necessary, and there are layers of fat that have to be gone through in order to reach the stomach. 

Spinal Tap

Spinal taps are used to detect meningitis, bacteria, bleeding, and other debilitating diseases related to the spine and brain. The patient is poked with a lumbar puncture straight into the spine, and cerebrospinal fluid is then removed and tested. Spinal taps can cause nerve paralysis even when done right, and when done wrong, total paralysis may ensue. 

Cesarean Section

Sometimes a C-section is absolutely necessary for the safety of a mother and her baby. However, if it isn’t a medical necessity, it may not be worth the risk. First and foremost, once a woman has a c-section, she’s going to need one for every subsequent birth. Additionally, one wrong move with a scalpel can hit nerves, leaving a mother in excruciating abdominal and vaginal pain for months—not necessarily the easiest thing to deal with while trying to take care of a newborn.

Circumcision

“High risk” may be a little bit of an exaggeration, but the fact of the matter is, outside of religious reasons, circumcision is largely unnecessary. Furthermore, circumcised boys have less penis sensitivity than males who don’t have the procedure. And when the surgery goes wrong, which is admittedly rare, serious problems may arise—such as infection, bleeding, or genital loss. 

Cancer Operations

Some candidates that have cancer are able to have their cancer removed via surgery. While it may seem easier than chemotherapy, it comes with risks. The surgery can involve removing an entire organ or group of tissues while even the simplest cancer operation requires meticulous searching for every bit of cancer inside the body. Dangers lie in infection, loss of organ function, bleeding, blood clots, and the risk that all the cancerous cells may not have been completely removed.  

Brain Surgery

Without a doubt, the most dangerous type of medical procedure in the world is brain surgery. These surgeries require removing part of the skull to reach the brain, and sometimes the piece isn’t replaced for several days, like in the case of swelling of the brain. Infection is the biggest risk, which can be deadly given it already starts in the brain.

Abdominal Exploration

Abdominal exploration is more common than you’d think. Many are listed as other reasons when the issue is discovered and repaired, but this type of medical procedure has a high mortality and complication rate. For this reason, it’s important to ask if an abdominal exploration is absolutely necessary when a doctor suggests it.

Pancreatectomy

A pancreatectomy is when the pancreas is partially or completely removed. According to a John Hopkins study, a terrifying 41% of these surgeries ended with complications. One of the most serious is bleeding post-op, which made food and liquids slow to leave the stomach.

Stents

In most cases, a stent isn’t an option for someone that needs it. They’re installed to open up a clogged artery, but some professionals suggest they’ve been overused in recent years in cases where medication may have been enough. Some of the most common risks of stents occur from the surgery itself, but you can also have an infection of the vessel. Other risks include a blockage in the artery, re-narrowing of the vessel, and blood clots.

Septal Myectomy

A septal myectomy is a type of open-heart surgery to reduce the thickening of the muscle. Most surgeries involving the heart are terrifying, but this one is particularly scary. The risks of this procedure include infection, heart attack, stroke, and death. However, patients that undergo this surgery have a much higher chance of survival (compared to choosing to opt out), making it a necessary but frightening surgery.

Thoracic Aortic Dissection Repair

An aortic dissection is a tear in the wall of the body’s main artery, the aorta. This particular procedure repairs the portion of the aorta that runs through the chest. The surgery itself can trigger a number of complications including heart failure, stroke, and a further rupture in the aorta.

Esophagectomy

Esophagectomy is a procedure to remove part or all of the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach while also reconstructing it using some of another organ. The risks can range from mild to severe and can include infection, cough, hoarseness, acid or bile reflux, respiratory influx, and difficulties swallowing. 

Bladder Cystectomy

A bladder cystectomy is necessary to remove part of (or all) of the bladder. A common risk with these types of surgery include infection and bleeding, but an infection could lead to peritonitis. Patients can also experience leakage from the bladder incision site, which can cause several other internal problems. 

Removal of Abdominal Adhesions

After an intestinal surgery, patients can develop painful scar tissue months or years later, and they must be removed via surgery. Complications can include a tear in the bowel, and there’s a chance it won’t alleviate the pain. Many doctors are choosing not to complete this surgery on patients.

Stomach Ulcer Surgery

Anyone with peptic ulcers can tell you that they’re incredibly painful. Sometimes, these ulcers need to be controlled. This type of surgery isn’t very common because it has exceptionally high risks of complications and mortality.

Back Surgery

Nearly all back surgeries carry a large risk. While helpful, it can have a number of complications that will affect a patient’s quality of life. Some of the risks include infection, blood clots, heart attack, stroke, and nerve damage. The nerve damage can result in weakness, paralysis, pain, or loss of bowel or bladder control.

Colectomy

A colectomy is used to remove parts or all of the colon. As with any bowel surgery, risks scar tissue and injury to surrounding organs. Another terrifying risk is leaking at the incision site, which can cause a leakage inside your body. This can cause infections that can be extremely deadly.

Laparotomy

A laparotomy is a surgical incision into the abdominal cavity that uses a full-sized incision rather than a minimally invasive approach. This type of procedure is done for a few reasons from abdominal exploration to a patient that’s had a stroke. It carries a high mortality and complication rate.

Conjoined Twin Separation

This isn’t a surgery many people undergo—it’s actually extremely rare. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t risky. Most often, conjoined twins share one or more organs, which risks the death of one or both patients. There are instances of successful surgeries, but it isn’t uncommon for patients to pass during separation.