Monthly Archives: November 2012

Butterflies in the stomach

Swallowed foreign objects in kids

I was called to see a poor young fella up at our country hospital the other week and the case got me thinking about the above topic. As we all know, kids are delightfully inquisitive and adventurous. Of course Freud provided us with the five psychosexual development stages. The oral stage is first and spans from birth to around 21 months of age. Unfortunately this stage coincides with the period in which children become increasingly mobile and can evade the watchful eyes of parents. It follows then that the risk of objects being swallowed also increases. (Interestingly, our ED collueges tend to see many adults stuck on the 2nd and 3rd psychosexual stages presenting with interesting radiological findings….)

However a large observational study in 1999, found that the mean age was 5.2 years (Cheng, Tam; 1999). Although many objects will pass through unobstructed, there are a few cases in which emergent care and/or watchful waiting must be undertaken. Like any medical problem a proper history, examination, investigation and treatment plan is required.

History

The primary objective is to glean what the foreign body is and when it was ingested. Sometimes this isn’t always obvious as the parent was not present at the time. An important strategy is to bring a replica of the object. Especially when dealing with lego, disc batteries or hair clip if possible. Any reports abdominal pain or blood in the stool is important. A history of developmental or intellectual delay can also be associated with major complications given a delay in presentation and vague symptomatology. This extends to adults with such disabilities and should always be considered in any case of abdominal pain in this population.

A list of commonly swallowed objects:

  • Buttons
  • Bones (chicken, fish)
  • Coins
  • Keys
  • Safety pins
  • Drawing pins
  • Lego
  • Glass
  • Soft drink lids
  • USB sticks

Special cases:

  • Large coins (ie 20 and 50 cent pieces)
  • Hair clips
  • Button/disc batteries
  • Magnets

Examination

The demeanour of the child may provide hints as to how far the object has progressed. A child with an oesophageal foreign object may be in distress, vomiting, drooling, and irritable or refusing oral intake. Those with objects in the stomach conversely, may be asymptomatic. However these presentations are not the rule and further investigations sought. Palpation of the abdomen can be normal, but signs of peritonism or localised tenderness point to perforation. Generally, examination will be unremarkable.

Investigation

Plain x-ray (XR) is indicated for any metallic foreign objects. The role of XR is to demonstrate that the foreign object has passed the oesophagus. In this case, the object will be below the diaphragm in the stomach. Mouth to anus imaging is usually required.

Nasty battery, luckily in the stomach (NB fluoro light reflection, not chest tube!)

Treatment

Disc batteries

The alkaline nature of these batteries (used in watches and hearing aides) can erode tissue when in contact with moist mucous membranes. If stuck in the oesophagus as seen on XR, these should be removed urgently or the child retrieved to a centre that can perform endoscopy. The tissue destruction can occur in a matter of hours. On the other hand, asymptomatic children with subdiaphragmatic batteries can be observed at home. The stool must be searched and a repeat XR performed after 3-4 days if it has not passed.

Coins & Hair clips

If the offending currency/clip reaches the stomach, there is usually no treatment or intervention required unless symptoms arise. If the agent is stuck in the proximal or middle oesophagus, then semi-urgent endoscopy is required. Although they lack the chemical effect of disc batteries, they can still cause pressure necrosis and perforate. Distal oesophageal objects can be observed with follow up XR. Check stool for passage.

Magnets

The most important question apart from those covered above are: what sort of magnet and how many were swallowed. Recently, there has been a growing trend of ingested strong magnets causing perforation, obstruction and even fistulae. Fatal attraction indeed. So magnets may need urgent surgical intervention even below the oesophagus.

Humorous stories

A young man that I went to college with had skolled a pint of beer at a pub night that had a dollar coin at the bottom. When he presented to ED that night, the coin was found to be subdiaphragmatic. Palpation over the stomach was performed asking “are we on the money here?” and the patient was sent home to ‘pass the buck.’

Not so shiny anymore…

I saw the poor young girl in ED in late 2011, above, who had on her birthday accidentally swallowed her shiny new hair clip and inadvertently got butterflies in her stomach. I didn’t follow up as to whether she was given a replacement.

Another comes from Dr. Scott, my affable GP supervisor had this gem on hand:

God speed, little pendant

Dear Doctor,
‘James’ was brought into A&E this afternoon after swallowing a St Christopher medallion.  We x-rayed him and confirmed that this had passed the diaphragm. We have reassured the parents that the medallion should pass with time and without complication.  We have, however, advised them to see you or represent here should St Christopher’s own travels be unduly delayed.
Sincerely,
A&E Consultant

Final pearls of wisdom:

  1. Find out what it was and when it was swallowed
  2. Foreign bodies in the stomach or intestine should pass in 99% of cases (with normal anatomy)
  3. Most complications involve foreign bodies in stuck in the oesophagus
  4. Plain x-ray can localise a metallic foreign body and stratify into oesophageal and subdiaphragmatic
  5. Caution with disc batteries!

References: 

Murtagh, J. (2008) John Murtagh’s general practice.  (4th Edition). Sydney: McGraw-Hill Australia.

Cameron P, et al. (2012) Textbook of paediatric emergency medicine. (2nd Edition). Sydney: Elsevier.

Cheng W, Tam PKH. Foreign body ingestion in children: experience with 1266 cases. J Pediatr Surg 1999;34:1472-6.

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Riding in harvesters with farmers

Cultivating primary prevention: the mechanised agricultural approach.

 

All aboard the combine harvester

Just the other day I was fortunate enough to visit one of our local grain farmers on their land. All over our corner of the Eyre Peninsula, hard working farmers are driving neat patterns in their combine harvesters (headers) collecting wheat, barley and other crops. Interestingly enough, our patient numbers have fallen steadily during this time. It seems that most of the community is too busy harvesting to be sick! Subsequently one afternoon, I only had two patients right after lunch. An early day! I’d spoken earlier in the year with a patient about visiting his farm and seeing what goes on around harvest time. After half hour driving east of town, I arrived to be greeted by a gargantuan green machine. There had been plenty of them parked in an empty lot next to the medical centre over the year, but when switched on and heading towards you, they are a different beast altogether!

ALL THE WHEAT!

chomp, chomp, chomp

Obviously things have changed a lot since the humble scythe, kyphosis and a headscarf. These days, the operator sits in air-conditioned comfort with a pre determined track and auto steering. The on board computers can tell the farmer the current yield of the crop and let him calculate (with SMS prices popping up continuously) how well they have done for each field. Looking out through the huge unobstructed windshield, you are able to see everything happening. From being plucked from the ground to being stored in the back of the header, a piece of grain has an amazing journey. When the comb at the front cuts the head of wheat, it is fed into the header by some conveyer belts. Inside, the stalk and the head are agitated so that the grain can fall below and be placed in the hopper for further use. The stalk and left over husks are then spat out the back into the field.

It got me thinking. Could we apply this same principle to primary health care and prevention? Watching the header bear down on me first and then seeing the wheat collected into the machine to get sorted gave me an idea. Often general practitioners, community nurses and health promoters have difficulty encouraging the public to connect and participate in health prevention strategies. One simple reason for this reluctance to attend may be that these approaches rely on self-directed changes. Eating less sugars/salt/saturated fats, exercising more, cutting out smoking and reducing alcohol. Stopping all the things that people can enjoy. But these are also all essential elements in reducing serious preventable health issues such as diabetes and CVS disease.

*duelling banjoes*

I propose this. Rather than relying on self-presentation, family members nagging or proactive health workers, we construct a transportable health prevention vehicle. “But Gerry!” I hear you exclaim, “such schemes exist already.” Ah yes they do (Harold et al), but never before like this. The Combine Health Harvester (CHH) will function in a similar way to the headers currently out in the fields surrounding our medical practice. Gathering then triaging the wheat from the chaff. The process by which the harvester can increase health officer access to patients with poor health lifestyles and then do something about it follows:

  1. Unsuspecting patients scooped off the street by scoop
  2. Channelled into the back of the harvester
  3. There, a BMI, blood glucose, blood pressure, and SNAP history taken, nicely.
  4. If enough risk factors exist, the patient will be kept inside the harvester for delivery to the local clinic.
  5. If the patient is healthy, they will be deposited back onto the street. Then left to continue their daily business with a healthy lifestyle pamphlet in hand.

How it works

Once dropped at the clinic, the patients assessed being at high risk can be tested further and referred to specialist care if needed. The technology and policy for the harvesting and patient education are already here. We just, in the words of the machine itself, need to combine them. Now just to pacify those civil libertarians….

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DISCLAIMER: This blog post is intended to be taken entirely as parody and humour. If it has not been, then perhaps you’d better go outside and get some sun. Our capture methods in Wudinna are currently much more crude than stated and will be refined in time. Thank you for your patients (sic).

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