How accidentally swallowing a toothpick led to severe blood poisoning

Toothpicks do not show up on conventional X-rays

Frenchay Hospital physicians in England discovered that a patient's liver abscess and severe blood poisoning was caused by a swallowed toothpick, according to a report in the British Medical Journal.

Although liver abscesses have been linked to swallowed pins and nails, toothpicks are especially "difficult to deal with effectively, because they don't show up on conventional X-rays and symptoms are often non-specific and remote," the report says.

The woman was admitted to the hospital with abdominal pain, fever, nausea, vomiting, and low blood pressure. After an abdominal ultrasound revealed that a toothpick had been lodged in her liver, surgeons removed it using keyhole surgery. All her symptoms cleared after a treatment of antibiotics.

Although such medical cases are rare, the authors of the report say physicians need to look out for signs of "foreign bodies," as detection can be difficult (BBC Health, 9/11; BMJ, 9/10 [subscription required]).

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