Most ingested foreign bodies are passed without complication. However, some foreign body may be associated with complications, depending on the size, shape, flexibility and number.


Major complications of a swallowed body:

(1) gastrointestinal obstruction

(2) perforation

(3) minor or major bleeding


A foreign body may range in size from small to large. The smaller the object the more likely is that it will pass. The larger and bulkier the object the more likely it will become arrested at a point of narrowing in the gastrointestinal tract (esophagus, pylorus, ileocecal valve). For example, swallowed examination gloves do a fine job of obstructing the esophagus.


The more nondigestible foreign bodies that a person has ingested, the more likely they are to accumulate in the stomach or elsewhere in the GI tract as they block further progression.


A foreign body with a sharp or projecting part is more likely to cause perforation and/or bleeding.


A pin, nail, toothpick, shaved bamboo or other narrow and pointed item can penetrate through the wall of the gastrointestinal tract. This may be followed by:

(1) bleeding

(2) localized peritonitis

(3) generalized peritonitis

(4) sepsis with gastrointestinal flora

(5) migration into other organs (kidney, heart, pleura, liver, leg, etc.)


Metalic foreign bodies can be visualized on routine X-ray. Ultrasound, CT scan and MRI can be helpful in identifying nonmetalic foreign bodies. Once visualized the foreign body can be tracked as it progresses through the gastrointestinal tract or becomes stuck.


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