Magnets For Adults, Not For Kids to Eat

Medical and surgical interventions for consuming magnets becoming more common in children

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Dominique Brooks, M.D

(RxWiki News) Magnets might be fun for your kids to play with, but it won't be any fun if they swallow a magnet and have to take a trip to the hospital. What's more, procedures to remove the magnets can come with more risks than other procedures.

Children were less likely to have illnesses related to ingesting magnets if they underwent endoscopy instead of surgery to remove the magnets, a study presented at a conference found.

During endoscopy, the doctor inserts a tube with a camera inside the body.

Removing magnets as soon as possible, along with improving patient and parent awareness can decrease illnesses related to magnet ingestion, according to the researchers.

"Don't keep tiny objects around infants."

Robert Noel, MD, from the Pediatrics Gastroenterology at LSU Health Science Center in New Orleans and the Children's Hospital of New Orleans, led researchers in this study of interventions performed on children who ingested neodymium earth magnets, which are tiny, silver magnetic balls that were introduced in 2008 as an adult desk toy.

The researchers also assessed the endoscopic and surgical methods to remove the magnets. They reviewed 123 cases in which children swallowed or inhaled magnets. Between 2011 and 2012, 102 of those cases occurred.

The researchers provided medical and surgical information about kids who ingested the magnets and their families between July 2012 and October 2012. The study was conducted using members of the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology​, Hepatology and Nutrition (NASPGHAN).

The number of kids who had reportedly ingested the magnets increased significantly in the spring of 2012, according to NASPGHAN. In response to these reports, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission and several retailers voluntarily recalled these magnet sets in April 2013.

The researchers surveyed pediatric gastroenterologists on the procedures they performed to remove the magnets. Laparotomy involves a large incision made in the abdomen. Laparoscopy involves a smaller incision made below the belly button with a tube placed into the cut, and thoracotomy involves the lungs.

In total, 121 had x-rays performed, 85 of whom had serial x-rays. Almost 80 percent of the patients had endoscopy, surgery or both to remove the magnets or repair damage caused by the magnets.

Laparotomy was performed most frequently, with 78 percent of patients undergoing the procedure. Laparoscopy was performed on 19 percent of patients, and 3 percent had thoracotomy.

The number of magnets ingested was not linked to the kind of surgery patients had. Three percent of surgery patients and 20 percent of endoscopy patients ingested more than 10 balls.

About 48 percent of patients who had endoscopy and surgery together had perforations, or tears. None of the patients who received endoscopy alone had any perforations.

A total of 26 percent of patients who had both procedures also had higher deep pressure wounds or injuries, compared to 11 percent of those who received endoscopy alone.

And endoscopy-alone patients had fewer related illnesses than patients who had both endoscopy and surgery combined.

Surgery for magnet removal alone occurred in 31 percent of patients, but 43 percent needed magnet removal plus another surgical procedure. Such procedures included repair of a fistula, or an opening, in 60 percent of the surgeries and bowel resection in 15 percent.

"The need for surgery, we speculate is due an increased period of time between ingestion and accessing medical care," the researchers wrote in their report. "Improved awareness and the requirement for early intervention may decrease morbidity associated with magnet ingestions."

Only 9 percent of the patients required further therapy after surgery and 90 percent of patients were good after surgery.

The study was presented May 18 during Digestive Diseases Week in Orlando. As such, it has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

One of the authors received grant support and served as a consultant for Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Dyax Corp., Cubist, UCB Inc. and Merck & Co. Another author received grant support from QOL Inc., Redhill Biopharma, AstraZeneca and Abbott Laboratories.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 17, 2013
Last Updated:
September 17, 2013