Swallowed Toothpicks Can Lead to Big Trouble, Experts Warn

TUESDAY Sept. 10, 2012 -- Accidentally swallowing a toothpick or other foreign object can cause serious health problems, such as blood poisoning (sepsis) or liver abscess.

Researchers reporting Sept. 11 in BMJ Case Reports said toothpicks, pins, nails or small bones that end up in the gut may not show up on conventional X-rays and often create vague symptoms, making detection difficult.

In one instance, a woman who accidentally swallowed a toothpick developed gut pain and fever, as well as nausea, vomiting and low blood pressure, they said. An ultrasound revealed the toothpick had lodged in her liver, causing an abscess and blood poisoning. The woman recovered after treatment with antibiotics and surgical removal of the toothpick from her liver.

Her case is one of more than 4,000 in a collection of international online reports, the researchers said.

Post-surgical oversights account for many of the cases. Surgeons leave a swab inside a patient's body in one of every 1,500 abdominal surgeries, the researchers said.

This situation, known as gossypiboma, affected one woman who underwent surgery for a prolapsed womb. A swab left inside her lodged near her rectum and changed her normal bowel habits. Ultimately, the swab was found during a CT scan and removed. Her symptoms disappeared.

"Swallowing foreign bodies is relatively common, particularly among children," the researchers said in a journal news release. Usually, they don't cause damage unless they create an obstruction or chemical burn, they said.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health provides more information on swallowed and inhaled foreign objects.

Posted: September 2012


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