With millions of Americans undergoing colonoscopies each year to screen for cancer, it’s not surprising that concerns were sparked by news that rocker Travis Barker was rushed to the hospital Tuesday with a severe case of pancreatitis, potentially “triggered” by a recent colonoscopy.
The report came from TMZ, which, contrary to perceptions that it’s just a scandal-mongering gossip site, tends to report accurately on celebrity tragedies. A number of outlets, including the New York Times, Insider and Health, took the report seriously enough that they rushed to find out from experts whether a colonoscopy can in fact trigger a bout of pancreatitis and whether the procedure is more risky than patients have been led to believe.
In consulting different gastroenterologists and other sources, the outlets concluded that it is “extremely rare” for a colonoscopy to trigger pancreatitis, and it is “rare” for a colonoscopy to cause other complications.
“Colonoscopy is very, very safe,” Avinash Ketwaroo, a gastroenterologist who specializes in endoscopic procedures at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told the New York Times. “It’s been extraordinarily successful in reducing the risk of colon cancer.”
During a colonoscopy, doctors guide a long, flexible tube called an endoscope into the rectum and colon, the New York Times reported. A camera at the end of the endoscope allows doctors to see the inside of the colon and to look for any abnormalities, such as inflamed tissue, ulcers, polyps, or cancer.
The New York Times and other outlets also reported that pancreatitis has other well-known causes, notably gallstones and heavy alcohol use. Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the organ in the abdomen, which produces enzymes that help to break down food. The pancreas also produces hormones, like insulin, that regulate sugar in the blood. Symptoms of pancreatitis include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Gallstones and heavy alcohol use “account for over 80% to 90% of the causes of pancreatitis in the country,” Suneal Agarwal, an associate professor of gastroenterology, hepatology, and nutrition at Baylor College, told Health. “And there are hundreds of thousands of pancreatitis (cases) that happen in the country … independent of colonoscopy.”
Eric Goldstein, a New York gastroenterologist, told Insider that colonoscopy-induced pancreatitis was so rare that people should take the report about Barker’s situation with “a grain of salt.”
No one representing the Blink-182 drummer or his new wife, reality TV star Kourtney Kardashian, has confirmed that he was hospitalized with pancreatitis or that he recently had a colonoscopy. Barker was rushed to Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles Tuesday after experiencing severe stomach pain. That morning, he tweeted, “God save me.”
Kardashian has reportedly remained by Barker’s side at the hospital, while his 16-year-old daughter, Alabama, posted a photo of her in the hospital with her father, holding his hand. On Thursday, Barkers’ ex-wife Shanna Moakler issued a statement to Us Weekly, thanking “everyone who has reached out with concern to my ex and father of my children.”
Outlets also have reported on Barker’s previous life-threatening emergencies, notably when he survived a plane crash in 2008 that left him with third-degree burns on 65 percent of his body. After that experience, which included multiple surgeries, the drummer decided to lead a healthier lifestyle, he told Men’s Health in 2021. He quit abusing prescription painkillers. He also became vegan and took up running. He said he only drinks occasionally and tries out THC edibles for his brand of cannabinoid wellness products.
in 2018, Barker had to deal with blood clots in his arms, along with a staph infection and a skin infection known as cellulitis, Yahoo reported. The blood clots forced Blink-182 to postpone their Las Vegas residency shows.
With regard to Barker’s latest health scare, Agarwal told Health that “more facts need to be known about the situation before commenting (on whether) the colonoscopy caused” the musician’s reported pancreatitis. Agarwal added: “I can’t stress the fact enough that it is very, very rare to get pancreatitis after a colonoscopy.”
Pancreatitis was not even described as a risk from colonoscopy in a 2021 study that analyzed the experiences of nearly 80,000 patients who had the procedure, the New York Times reported. In all of medical literature there may be fewer than 10 cases of pancreatitis associated with colonoscopy, Agarwal told Health.
Health also cited data from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), which said there are only about four to eight serious complications from colonoscopies for every 10,000 procedures. The complications include bleeding, infection and a perforation, or small tear, in the intestine, the latter occurring in fewer than one in 1,000 patients, the New York Times reported. The anesthesia used for the procedure also carries risks.
Abdominal discomfort is not uncommon after colonoscopy, Kavel Visrodia, a gastroenterologist at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center, told the New York Times. “Typically, that discomfort will subside within a few hours after the procedure.”