A colonoscopy is a generally safe and effective preventive procedure to examine the colon for possible cancer, disease, or other growths. Complications are rare, but some people may experience chest pain due to sedation.

Any complication following a colonoscopy is rare. The most common, including hemorrhaging and perforation of the bowel, may not cause chest pain, but they can be serious if not untreated. Complications that cause chest pain may relate to the procedure itself or due to sedation.

Complications can be difficult to diagnose due to their rarity. A doctor may misdiagnose a complication due to the nonspecific nature of symptoms.

This article reviews possible complications of a colonoscopy that may cause chest pain, other possible complications, and when to see a doctor.

there is a black and white picture of a person experiencing chest painShare on Pinterest
Dmitriy Bilous/Getty Images

Pneumothorax is the medical term for a collapsed lung. It occurs when air leaks into the space between the lung and chest wall. The air pushes on the lung and causes it to collapse under pressure.

A collapsed lung is a very rare complication of a colonoscopy. According to research from 2017, there have only been 22 reported cases of pneumothorax following a colonoscopy.

Risk factors of pneumothorax may include:

  • being female
  • having underlying bowel pathology
  • having any form of intervention
  • having a difficult colonoscopy

If a doctor suspects a collapsed lung, they will provide a diagnosis. Doctors tailor treatment to an individual’s needs, though the treatment may include inserting a tube to help inflate the lung.

Another rare complication of colonoscopy, subcapsular hematoma of the spleen involves trauma to the spleen. Its occurrence rate is roughly 0.004%.

However, some studies indicate that the actual rate of occurrence may be higher. This is due to misdiagnosis and nonspecific symptoms associated with a ruptured spleen.

It may occur due to tension placed on the splenocolic ligament and then the tearing of the splenic capsule.

Possible risk factors may include:

Pain from the spleen can start in the abdomen and spread to the chest.

In some cases, sedation may cause lung and heart complications. Some may cause a person to experience chest pain. Possible sedation-related complications include:

  • minor fluctuations in oxygen saturation
  • changes in heart rate
  • myocardial infarction
  • respiratory arrest
  • cardiac arrhythmias
  • shock

Doctors use sedation to help relax a person during the procedure, ranging from a person having no sedation to general anesthesia. Most people require only light sedation that makes them sleepy or causes them to fall asleep.

Light sedation is generally safe but may cause side effects such as:

In rare cases, it can cause issues, including a collapsed lung or nerve damage.

Colonoscopy is generally a safe procedure with a limited risk of complications. However, as with any procedure, complications can occur.

According to a 2019 study, the two most common complications include hemorrhage (1%) and bowel perforation (0.1%).

Other possible, yet rare, complications could include:

  • gas explosion
  • postpolypectomy electrocoagulation syndrome, which can occur due to removal of a polyp
  • infection

Available research notes that colonoscopy complications resulting in death are very rare.

Risk factors that may increase the risk of complications may include difficulty of the colonoscopy and presence of underlying condition. Most people getting a colonoscopy will not experience any adverse events.

Following a colonoscopy, a person should let the medical staff know if they experience any symptoms following the procedure. These may indicate an issue occurred due to the colonoscopy.

A person who presents with chest pain shortly after a colonoscopy should contact a doctor. Chest pain could indicate a collapsed lung or may be a symptom of several other underlying health conditions.

Due to the rarity of complications associated with colonoscopies, it is possible for a doctor to misdiagnose a complication.

Colonoscopies are generally safe and effective preventive examinations for various conditions, including colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease. However, complications can occur.

Due to their rarity, predicting who may experience a complication is often difficult. Diagnosis may also be delayed as doctors look for other possible causes.

Treatments will vary based on a doctor’s recommendations and the complication itself. A person should work with a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.