What started as a concern posted by a few pediatric gastroenterologists on a community bulletin board became the first study to document the frequency of medical and surgical interventions for children and adolescents who swallow magnets, a common component of adult desk toys. Investigators found that more than 79 percent of magnet ingestion cases ultimately required surgical and/or endoscopic procedures. Only 21 percent of cases could be managed by observation alone or by observation and pumping of the stomach, or lavage.
"We seemed to be seeing more and more of these cases, some of which were very serious, even life-threatening," said R. Adam Noel, associate professor of pediatrics at Louisiana State University Children's Hospital. "Our research not only confirms our concern, but also shows that early intervention is particularly important with these magnet ingestions."
Funded by the department of pediatrics at the Louisiana State University Health Science Center in New Orleans, the study surveyed pediatric gastroenterologists around the country, tracking their medical and surgical interventions with patients who had swallowed neodymium magnets. These magnets are 10 to 20 times stronger than typical refrigerator magnets and are typically found in desk toys marketed to adults as stress relievers. If ingested, the magnets can become lodged in the digestive system and perforate the intestine. Severe damage can be fatal.
In 31 percent of cases, the study found, surgery was only needed to remove the magnets. But 43 percent of surgical cases required another major procedure, including fistula (abnormal connection between an organ, vessel or intestine and another structure) repair, and 15 percent needed a bowel resection.
The high surgical rate may be explained by the magnets' unique potential for harm. In cases involving other foreign objects, 85 percent of the time
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Digestive Disease Week