Magnet Ingestion in Children: A Growing Problem
By Emily Farr, Ivanhoe Health Correspondent
(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- A recent study announced that parents and physicians must be aware of the growing danger of magnet ingestion by children because magnets can cause life-threatening diseases.
“What we are seeing is an increase in incidence of magnet ingestion now, compared to a few years ago. The scary thing is that we are seeing more devastating consequences now than we were seeing previously. It is likely due to the strength of the magnets. Magnets are apparently ten times stronger now,” Ashanti Woods, MD, Pediatrician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, told Ivanhoe.
Magnet ingestion in the past was generally treated with a wait-and-see approach, which relied on the magnet to pass without incident. However, new high-powered magnets called neodymium-iron-boron magnets (or rare-earth magnets) are ten to 20 times stronger than what they used to be and can adhere to each other through the bowel.
“Modern magnet technology has transformed what was once an esoteric subtype of foreign-body ingestion into a common and lethal threat,” Dr. Daniel Rosenfield, Department of Pediatrics at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), and coauthors, were quoted as saying.
Magnet ingestion used to be rare, but the clinical examples and literate expressed by the authors in the study indicates that it is becoming more common. Data from the Public Health Agency of Canada show that the number of visits to emergency departments for magnet ingestion has increased significantly over the past decade.
“If one magnet is ingested, usually there are no complications and the child is able to expel it normally. It’s when a child has ingested multiple magnets that we fear these complications may arise. The complications I’m referring to include something called volvulus. Volvulus is where the intestines twist. Perforation is another complication. Perforation means a hole is created within the intestines. Finally, something called pressure necrosis happens. Imagine we have a balloon, instead of twisting it; we fold it over on itself. Once it is folded over, one side is touching the other side and those magnets are tightly adhered. That tight bond basically suffocates that region and oxygen isn’t getting to that region, causing the child pain,” Dr. Woods commented.
X-rays can indicate the presence of more than one magnet. If a child does ingest more than one, removal by endoscopy, laxative (polyethylene), or surgery may be required.
Dr. Woods says that magnets are now small in size and can resemble candy. The kids ingesting them are often younger than five years old.
Awareness and prevention are the first defense in combatting this growing problem.
“Medical doctors, parents, and caretakers, we all need to become more aware that this is going on because the symptoms are non-specific usually. The child may have no complaints at all or their complaints may be similar to having a stomach virus. If magnet ingestion is on no one’s radar, then the time of diagnosis is delayed. So studies now are saying it’s this delay in diagnosis which is leaning to the nastier consequences,” Dr. Woods concluded.
Study authors believe that further targeted campaigns are needed to inform parents of the risk. Small warning labels on magnet-based products have become insufficient. They think information in primary care offices and media exposure are needed to mitigate the risks associated with magnet ingestion.
SOURCE: CMAJ, March 2013 and interview with Ashanti Woods, MD, Pediatrician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore