Ball Magnet Ingestion in Children: A Dangerous Attraction?

Priscilla Lynch 

September 27, 2021

A nationwide public awareness campaign is required to highlight the potential life-changing injuries resulting from ‘ball magnet’ ingestion, with emphasis on the need to seek urgent clinical advice on ingestion, even in apparently well children, suggests a new study in the  BMJ Emergency Medicine Journal .

The swallowing of small, strong, rare earth magnets, also termed ‘ball magnets’, can rapidly result in life-threatening bowel injuries. NHS England recently issued a patient safety alert and called for them to be banned after at least 65 children were admitted to the hospital for urgent surgery in the last three years after ingestion of such magnets.

In this multicentre survey of UK major trauma centres (MTCs), researchers sought data on paediatric patients admitted to hospitals following ball magnet ingestion from 1 January 2020 to 31 December 2020.

Responses were received from 11 MTCs (52%) reporting a total of 53 children admitted with ‘ball magnet’ ingestion over the one-year study period. The median child age was seven (range, 1-15) years.

The median number of ‘ball magnets’ ingested was 5.0 (interquartile range, 3.0-7.8), range: 1-63, and almost all patients (n=51; 96%) presented following unintentional ingestion, with two being self-harm attempts.

A total of 36 (68%) patients presented asymptomatically following witnessed or reported ingestion.

In symptomatic patients, abdominal pain and vomiting were the most common symptoms.

Despite presenting early, usually on the day of ingestion, a significant proportion of patients experienced serious complications such as bowel perforation and fistulation.

A total of 27 (51%) patients underwent operative intervention, laparotomy being the most common (n=24; 89%). Six (22.2%) patients underwent attempted endoscopic removal, of which only one was successful, and three (11.1%) had laparoscopic procedures.

Six patients required more than one procedure, five patients had bowel resections and one patient required the formation of a defunctioning stoma.

All patients were discharged, and no deaths were reported.

The authors propose a joint approach between clinicians, regulators and caregivers to raise awareness and impose legislation and reduce preventable morbidity and mortality in this patient group.

Price J, Malakounides G, Stibbards S, Agrawal S. Ball magnet ingestion in children: a stronger and more dangerous attraction? Emerg Med J. 2021 Sep 20 [Epub ahead of print]. doi: 10.1136/emermed-2021-211767. PMID: 34544782

This article originally appeared on Univadis, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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