About five years ago, emergency room doctor Julie Brown met an 8-year-old girl who complained about a weeklong stomach ache. The girl was tight-lipped about what might be causing the pain, and she ended up visiting the Seattle Children's Hospital, where Brown works, twice. And then a third time.
"When I examined her, she was sitting up and chatting with me," Brown tells Shots. "She looked so well."
Then, the young girl's doctors ordered an X-ray, and found something odd. "She had a stack of magnets and batteries in her stomach," Brown says. "She went right to the operating room, where they did an endoscopy. They only found a couple of them."
Julie Brown/YouTube
Seattle Children's Hospital ER doctor Julie Brown explains magnet safety.
The doctors realized they would have to open her up and look for the rest. What they found was a minefield of tiny, round rare-earth magnets she had swallowed.
A battery and a magnet were stuck together in her stomach, which caused an ulcer. A little further down the line in her gastrointestinal tract was another ulcer. The 8-year-old ended up losing about 10 centimeters of her intestines that had become seriously damaged.
"We actually do pretty well with less intestine, generally speaking," Brown says. "But anyone who has had surgery involving opening the bowel has an increased lifelong risk of bowel obstruction due to adhesions. So it is definitely something we wish we could avoid."
The case pushed Brown, already interested in studying foreign objects in the body, to track kids who have an appetite for magnets.
In a recent study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, Brown and colleagues documented an increase in magnet-related ailments that eventually bring young people into the emergency room.
Using national emergency room data from 2002 to 2011, Brown and other researchers found a fivefold increase in young people (up to age 21) who swallowed magnets and wound up in the hospital.
Over that period, there were about 22,500 injuries to kids from magnets. Most of the time, the magnets went through the mouth, but nearly a quarter of the injuries were caused when kids stuck magnets up their noses.

Swallowing Tiny Magnets Can Lead To Big Trouble For Kids

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