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Updated: June 19, 2014 02:23 IST

Beyond bizarre: The case of the identified foreign object

Ramya Kannan
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When surgeons open you up for a procedure, they say hello to your innards, but occasionally, they also end up shaking their heads at finding a foreign object.

In your gullet, right down your throat, what the good doctor calls your oesophagus, is where much of these encounters of the bizarre kind happen.

Among the things that endoscopists or surgeons have removed from the food pipe are safety pins, glass pieces, a bunch of nails, a hair clip, sewing needles, assorted coins, dentures, part of a razor blade, even the cap of a pen. Clearly, they had no business being there.

In a study of 64 patients done at Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital (RGGGH) over a period of five years, doctors found all this, and more. “Our patients were aged between two years and 76 years old,” says S.M. Chandramohan, head, department of surgical gastroenterology, RGGGH.

“Finding foreign bodies lodged in the throat, oesophagus or the breathing passage is pretty common in children,” says Bala Ramachandran, medical director, and head, department of Intensive Care, Kanchi Kamakoti CHILDS Trust Hospital. “Sometimes, it can be life threatening. Often, parents only figure it out when the child has a problem — hoarse voice, coughing, pneumonia.”

Though you wouldn’t think it possible among adults, records show it does happen. Adults may ingest objects accidentally, under the influence of alcohol or intentionally (in cases of attempts at suicide or mental illness), Dr. Chandramohan says. His team conducted the study along with the department of medical gastroenterology headed by Mohammed Ali.

In the majority of cases, these objects pass out of the system spontaneously, but in 10 or 20 per cent of the cases, they do not, and medical intervention is needed, either in the form of endoscopy or surgery. One needs to take serial X-rays to monitor the passage of the object, he adds.

In one case, Dr. Chandramohan recounts, they found a fairly large sewing needle that had pierced the gullet. The patient, strangely, had no recollection of how the needle got there. Another patient turned up seven-and-a-half years after he had swallowed a portion of his dentures, and that was only because he had developed difficulty in swallowing.

The most common sites in the system where foreign bodies lodge themselves are the oesophagus, stomach, duodenum and rectum, he adds. Of these, a large number of objects are found in the upper oesophagus, and the most dangerous site is the middle oesophagus, where a foreign body can cause injury to the breathing apparatus.

That sounds serious. It’s probably best to be conservative about what you put in your mouth.

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