"Any time more than one magnet passes beyond the stomach of a child, urgent surgical consideration is required," Dr. Oestreich said.
If the magnets are allowed to pass beyond the stomach, they can attract each other through opposing intestinal walls, which can lead to obstruction, necrosis (cell or tissue death) and perforation of the intestines.
Swallowing foreign objects is a common occurrence among children, primarily between the ages of 6 months and 3 years. Approximately 80 percent of the objects that reach the stomach will pass through the gastrointestinal tract on their own. However, up to 20 percent will need to be removed surgically. While a single swallowed magnet may pass, in many instances, multiple magnets will become lodged in the intestines.
Dr. Oestreich provided commentary for the pediatric radiology chapter of the soon-to-be-released 2004 Year Book of Diagnostic Radiology, which contains two case studies of multiple magnet ingestion.
In one case, a 10-month-old boy had swallowed two magnetic beads of a necklace used to treat muscle stiffness. His symptoms included vomiting, mild fever and abdominal pain. An abdominal x-ray showed two foreign bodies arranged in a line in the small intestine, as well as excess fluid. Doctors performed emergency surgery to remove the beads and repair a perforation in the intestinal wall.
In the second case, a 22-month-old boy swallowed seven small, tablet-shaped magnets. They had separated into two groups that attracted each other through the intestinal wall, causing two perforations requiring surgery.