An 18-year-old pro athlete nearly died after unknowingly swallowing a toothpick that punctured his insides

Adam Sargent / EyeEm / GettyA conspicuous toothpick.
  • An 18-year-old pro athlete almost died after unknowingly swallowing a whole toothpick.
  • He had no knowledge of swallowing anything unusual, which made his abdominal pain difficult to diagnose.
  • After three weeks of tests and hospital visits, he went for a colonoscopy.
  • It revealed a 7cm toothpick sticking out of his lower intestine.
  • The man was rushed into surgery, and thankfully made a full recovery.

Babies and young children famously swallow things they shouldn’t. But we generally grow out of this habit as we get older.

If we do swallow things that aren’t food, we can generally hope for them to pass through the digestive system without much harm. That’s what happened to a young athlete – until a toothpick punctured his digestive tract.

In a case published in The New England Journal of Medicine, an 18-year-old was complaining of abdominal pain and passing blood. After a few weeks of tests and scans, a colonoscopy discovered the cause of the problem: a toothpick.

However, the man had no idea he’d swallowed it in the first place.

The toothpick made most of its way through his digestive system without any issue, but when it reached the lower intestine it punctured through a wall and poked into an artery.

Toothpick resizedThe New England Journal of MedicineThe problematic toothpick.

The colonoscopy revealed a lot of blood, the loss of which could have been life-threatening. But because the man had no knowledge of swallowing anything unusual, it took three hospital visits in total before the doctors figured out the problem. Also, no toothpick showed up on any of the scans, so the doctors were even more surprised to come across it.

Once the toothpick was removed, the man needed extensive surgery to repair the damage and stop the bleeding.

“Toothpick ingestion is associated with a particularly high risk of complications,” the authors wrote in the report. Apparently, 79% of cases lead to perforation, while 10% lead to death, according to a study of 136 patients published in the World Journal of Surgery.

Such serious injuries from a toothpick are pretty uncommon, Jefry Biehler, the chairman of pediatrics at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami told LiveScience, but if someone doesn’t realise they have swallowed one in the first place it makes diagnosis more difficult.

The patients biggest concern was going back to sports, the New York Times reported. When he came round from extensive surgery, that was only supposed to be a colonoscopy, he was told about the toothpick. When racking his brains, he apparently did remember a sandwich that he had difficulty with.

After 10 days he was discharged from hospital, and seven months later he was back to playing professionally, the report said.

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