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Swallowed toothpick leads to serious health scare for teen

'Toothpick ingestion' creates a particularly high risk of complications, even death.
Toothpick in food
Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Remember what your mom said: Chew your food! A mystery medical case published Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine shows the damage an accidentally swallowed toothpick can do to the body.

It's more common and serious than you think: Dozens of cases have been reported, with some ending in death.

The frightening story involves an 18-year-old professional athlete who’d been feeling fine until a recent training trip. He went to the emergency room complaining of fever, abdominal pain, loose stools and mild nausea after eating.

After a round of tests at the hospital, doctors were stumped. His blood test results and CT scan were normal, so the man was released after several hours of observation.

He felt better, but the ordeal wasn’t over. Two weeks later, the abdominal pain and fever returned. The patient also developed low-back pain and noticed blood and mucus in his stools. He sought help at a second hospital. But again, his blood tests were normal and an MRI showed only “mildly distended, fluid-filled loops of small bowel.”

Doctors scheduled a colonoscopy for the next day, but the athlete felt worse and noticed more bright-red blood in the toilet, so he returned to the emergency room and was admitted to the hospital.

His fever spiked to 105 degrees, and his pulse raced at 145 beats per minute. He was confused and tired.

A colonoscopy finally revealed what was wrong: Doctors found a 2-inch wooden toothpick lodged in the man’s colon. The patient experienced life-threatening bleeding when it was removed, so he was rushed to surgery to repair the damage.

He spent 10 days in the hospital and had to undergo weeks of rehab. Seven months after his injury, the athlete was finally able to play in his first professional game and continues to do well, the case study noted.

It turns out he’s not the first to swallow an intact toothpick. A 2014 study found 136 cases, with three-quarters of them involving men.

“Toothpick ingestion” creates a particularly high risk of complications, with 79 percent of cases leading to gut perforation and 10 percent ending in death, The New England Journal of Medicine warned.

A colonoscopy finally revealed what was wrong: a 2-inch wooden toothpick lodged in the man’s colon. New England Journal of Medicine

“Patients with perforation by a foreign body are usually unable to remember ingesting the foreign body,” the report noted. “Most ingested foreign bodies pass without consequence, but 10 to 20 percent need to be removed endoscopically and 1 percent surgically.”

Chew your food!