Most Dangerous Medical Procedures You May Want to Avoid If You’re Over 50

By the time you hit 50, you’re familiar with aches and pains you never thought you’d have. And you’re also bombarded with medical advice from well-meaning friends and family. They want you to be healthy, this is true. But getting test after test to ensure everything’s working isn’t always the best route.

The most responsible course of action: Ask your doctor about their recommendations. But for now, these medical procedures can be unnecessary — and even dangerous  — if you’re in the over-50 crowd. Half of people who undergo one common procedure absolutely don’t need it (page 9).

1. Thyroid screenings

A family doctor checks a patient's mouth and throat at her office

Get your thyroid checked, but know the risk. | Sean Gallup/ Getty Images

Getting your thyroid checked is a good thing — and if you have a family history of thyroid issues, then getting screened isn’t a bad idea. But Reader’s Digest explains ultrasounds to check for thyroid cancer often show small nodules that won’t end up growing at all.

Once you know they’re there, however, doctors often recommend you remove them or remove your thyroid altogether. If you do get this gland removed, you’ll have to take replacement hormones for life.

Next: Don’t “break your heart” with this procedure.

2. Coronary angiograms

Heart Pain

This procedure can be terrifying. | TeoLazarev/iStock/Getty Images

The Atlantic explains a coronary angiogram involves inserting a catheter into an artery to check for blockages. While this can be useful and life-saving, it’s quite invasive and not always necessary. Research shows one in 50 people who receive stents will have a serious complication or die from the implantation.

As cardiovascular doctor David L. Brown says, “Nobody that’s not having a heart attack needs a stent.” Ask your doctor about possible other solutions if this is their recommendation.

Next: Say goodbye to your favorite foods after this surgery.

3. Gallbladder removal

Close-up of surgeons hands holding surgical scissors and passing surgical equipment , motion blur background.

Make sure this is a necessity before you agree to the surgery. | iStock.com/xmee

The good news: Gallbladder surgery doesn’t come with the same high risk of complications as some other procedures on the list. But CBS News notes many people over the course of their lifetime choose to get their gallbladder removed when they experience mild discomfort.

Keep in mind, Prevention notes your tolerance to some foods may change after removing this organ. Your favorite high-fat foods may be off-limits unless there’s a bathroom nearby.

Next: A workout test may not work out for you.

4. A cardiac stress test

Men and women run on treadmills at a fit

Is this really worth the effort and time? | Abbas Momani/AFP/GettyImages

If you have a family history of heart disease, you may need to get a cardiac stress test. But if you’re healthy and don’t have a history of high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, or high cholesterol, then you really don’t need this done, says Prevention.

If you’re getting this test yearly, as some doctors recommend, you may want to rethink this. The stress test could find abnormalities when your heart is in fine condition — and these blips can lead to other invasive procedures down the road.

Next: Lose your teeth and you may lose your “nerve.”

5. Dental implants

Set of metal dentist's medical equipment tools

Take care of your implants. | YakubovAlim/iStock/Getty Images

If you’ve lost a few teeth over the years, you’ve probably considered dental implants. But you should keep in mind the risks associated with this procedure. Livestrong.com notes if you don’t clean or floss your implants properly, it can lead to infection. You increase your risk of infection if you smoke or use any tobacco products, too.

Dental implants can also cause nerve damage if they’re placed incorrectly, and they can lead to complications with your sinuses.

Next: You’ll lose sleep over this complication.

6. Prescription sleeping pills

Older unable to sleep

After a bad fall, recovery may be slow. | Motortion/iStock/Getty Images

This isn’t a surgery, but sleeping pills can still be risky if you don’t absolutely need them. AARP reports seniors should be wary of medications like Restril and Ambien since they increase the risk of falls.

The older you get, the higher the likelihood that falls will result in hip fractures. If you’re struggling with insomnia, ask your doctor about other therapies.

Next: No need to get bloody.

7. Blood panels

It this truly necessary? | iStock.om

It seems better to get a blood panel than to skip it — and in many cases, getting your blood work done is necessary. However, Newsweek says you should double check with your doctor if you feel like you’re getting blood work completed for every little thing.

If you’re healthy and have never had complications from surgeries or medications in the past, a blood panel testing over 20 measurements often catches something that falls just outside the boundaries of normal. In reality, it’s typically a lab error — but it can cause you a great deal of stress before they figure that out.

Next: Treating back pain is a tricky process.

8. Imaging tests for back pain

Young Businesswoman On Chair Having Backpain

Make sure your back pain truly warrants an imaging test. | iStock.com/AndreyPopov

You should rethink an imaging test for your back pain. The American Academy of Family Physicians says scans of your back often reveal “abnormalities” that may not actually be real concerns, according to Prevention. This can lead to unhelpful, or even harmful, treatments.

There’s also the radiation to consider. You’re only exposed to a small amount, but over time, it can increase your cancer risk.

Next: Half of those who experience this procedure don’t need it.

9. Catheters

Senior woman in hospital

Take care of yourself and those you love. | iStock.com/shironosov

AARP gives this startling statistic: One in five patients at the hospital have a urinary catheter inserted. But research shows about half of them don’t need it.

If you truly need one, request that it’s removed as soon as possible. This is because your chances of developing a urinary tract infection increase the longer you have a catheter in. UTIs are the most common infections acquired in hospitals, and they can be fatal.

Next: Older women should rethink this menopausal procedure.

10. Hormone replacement therapy

Middle aged woman

After menopause, take an extra close look at your heart health. | Natalie_board/iStock/Getty Images

Reader’s Digest explains hormone replacement therapy is often prescribed to post-menopausal women to ease their symptoms. Since many women experience hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and irritability, HRT can be helpful.

But women need to be careful when considering this therapy; research shows it can actually make heart health worse. Doctors recommend taking HRT for the shortest amount of time possible if you choose it.

Next: Don’t get this risky screening unless you have symptoms. 

11. Screenings for carotid artery disease

Older at doctor

Heart health is something everyone should be aware of. | Monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images

Carotid artery stenosis is no joke. And it’s important to know the symptoms for this disease narrows the arteries and increases stroke risk. If you’re familiar with the symptoms and don’t have any, however, it may be in your best interest to skip the screenings, says AARP.

Glen Stream, M.D., tells the publication “more people are harmed than helped by having this test,” as it often leads to more testing and, in some cases, invasive surgery. Some of the surgeries may also increase your stroke risk.

Next: It’s important to know your bone health, but you may not need this test just yet.

12. Bone density tests

Aged woman suffering from pain in knee

You may lose bone density over time. | Maroke/iStock/Getty Images

If you’re not at high risk for bone loss and you’re under the age of 65, you can skip the bone density test, Prevention explains. These X-rays measure minerals in your bones, but if you don’t have bone loss, you don’t need them.

If you do decide to get the test, it’s possible it can detect very mild bone loss, and your doctor may prescribe medications with undesirable side effects. It’s also worth noting many treatments only help for a few years.

Next: It seems like a great idea to get this before surgery, but is it really?

13. Pre-surgery testing

Blood drawn from an old man arm

Keep this in mind when you visit the doctor. | Picsfive/iStock/Getty Images

It seems wise to receive pre-surgery testing for elective procedures just to be safe. But AARP notes it’s not always the best course of action. Not only are extra blood tests and X-rays costly, they’re unnecessary in many cases. And results may show abnormalities when nothing is actually wrong, which can stress you out and cause delays in your surgery plans.

Next: This procedure may lead to cancer later on.

14. CT scans

Doctor operating CT scanner

Radiation can be dangerous. | Photo_Concepts/iStock/Getty Images

CT scans can be incredibly useful for doctors to identify tumors, cysts, and other abnormalities in your body. But according to Reader’s Digest, studies show as many as 2% of all cancer cases in the U.S. could be from CT scans. This is because the machines contain as much radiation as 200 X-rays.

What’s even worse: Many people who get these scans think they need them, when in reality, they may not. Some health professionals recommend the much-safer MRI.

Next: If you elect for this surgery you may elect for wound complications.

15. Breast reduction surgery

couple on consultation with a doctor

The surgery is an option, but still has risks. | Didesign021/iStock/Getty Images

According to research presented on The Aesthetic Channel, women over the age of 50 who get breast reduction surgery are more susceptible to infections afterwards. Results from a study show the infection rate was 2.7 times higher for this age group than for women under 40. Also, the over-50 crowd had a more difficult time with wound healing.

If you want this surgery, talk to your doctor about the potential risks first.

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