Second Opinion for Ulcerative Colitis Surgery

If you have ulcerative colitis, your doctor may suggest surgery as the key to improving your quality of life. There are plenty of solid reasons for getting an operation, but it's OK to ask another medical expert for a second opinion.

Seeing another doctor may lead to a different treatment or might support your original plan. Either way, it doesn't hurt to get another set of eyes on your medical history.

How to Find a Second Doctor

Your current doctor may suggest you get surgery for important reasons, such as:

  • Your medical therapy no longer helps
  • You're bleeding a lot
  • You have or may get cancer

You'll want to discuss these issues with another specialist who knows a lot about ulcerative colitis. Here's how you can start your search:

Get a referral. You can ask your first doctor whom you should go to. They should support your search for a second opinion. But you can also find someone through your primary care doctor. They may work with several colorectal surgeons. Those are doctors who operate on the rectum or colon.

Search for specialists online. You can find a specialist in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in your area through the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation website. If you're looking for a colorectal surgeon, the American Society of Colon & Rectal Surgeons website can help with your search.

Find out which doctors are covered by your insurance. If you have health insurance, you'll want to ask which surgeons are in-network. You can go to someone who is out-of-network, but you'll pay more. Your insurance provider should be able to let you know what costs to expect.

Try a teaching hospital. Many specialists and colorectal surgeons work with universities and hospitals that do research on IBD. They may have more access to a variety of treatments. In some cases, they may be able to put you in a clinical trial to test a new medicine.

Pick the right location. Decide how far you'll be willing to drive. If you end up getting surgery, you'll need to make follow-up visits.

Do some research. Once you pick a few doctors, check their credentials. Many have a professional page that shows their specialties and lists research they've done.

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How to Prepare for Your Appointment

You'll need to gather some health information. You can ask your doctor or hospital to send over your medical records. To give you the best second opinion, the doctor will need:

  • Your doctor's notes
  • Lab results
  • Records of your hospital stays
  • Colonoscopy or biopsy results
  • CT or MRI scans

If you've seen a lot of doctors, your medical history may be spread out. You may not have fast access to all of it. That's why, before your visit, it's a good idea to jot down as much of your ulcerative colitis history as you can remember.

Try to answer these questions:

  • When were you diagnosed with ulcerative colitis?
  • What treatments have you tried, and how long were you on them?
  • What kind and dose of medicine were you on?
  • Why did you stop other treatments?
  • Did you have bad reactions or side effects from medicine?

You may not be able to remember your entire medical history. If you can't think of the names of all your medicines, tell them what form of drug it was. Was it a pill or a shot? How often did you have to take it? Your doctor won't want you to repeat a treatment that didn't work in the past.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

It's best to find someone who does a lot of surgeries like the one you're supposed to get. During your appointment, you can ask them how many people with UC they've operated on in the past month or year. It's a good sign if they do them at least every couple of weeks or so.

You can also ask:

  • Are there other medicines I can try first?
  • How will surgery help my quality of life?
  • Will surgery cure my flares?
  • Will surgery lower my chances of cancer?
  • Is there a blockage that medicine can't fix?

Can You Go Back to Your First Doctor?

Your second opinion may confirm your original plan for surgery. If you like your first doctor, it's fine to go back to them for the operation.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on April 27, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Ashwin N. Ananthakrishnan, MD, associate professor of medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital.

Garrett Lawlor, MD, assistant professor of medicine; associate director, Inflammatory Bowel Disease Program, Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUMC).

Duke Health: "Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)."

Israel Journal of Health Policy Research: "Obtaining a second opinion is a neglected source of health care inequalities."

Crohn's & Colitis Foundation: "Finding A Specialist or Treatment Center," "Surgery for Ulcerative Colitis." 

Crohn's & Colitis UK: "Surgery for Ulcerative Colitis (UC)."

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