Magnet Ingestion a Serious Issue for Kids, Teens

Ingestion of high-powered magnets remains a serious issue for children and teens, according to a survey of pediatric gastroenterologists.

The survey, said MedPageToday included information from physician respondents who reported 480 cases of magnet ingestion over the past 10 years; 204 took place in the last year, alone. The North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition (NASPGHAN) released the report at a press conference.

The increase came after the introduction of high-powered neodymium magnets in 2008. These magnet sets are sold in sets of 100 or more balls, each of which is about 3-6 mm; sets are typically marketed as adult desk toys, explained MedPageToday. The magnets are actually industrial-strength magnets, like those found in automobiles, computer hard drives, and batteries for power tools. These types of magnets are able to attract each other through a half-inch of muscle, skin, and bone, said Mark Gilger, MD, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and a member of NASPGHAN, wrote MedPageToday.

We have long explained, when two or more magnets are swallowed, they can attract internally, resulting in significant injuries; potentially fatal problems can be difficult to diagnose; initial physical exams might not reveal a serious problem; and patients can suffer from bowel perforation, volvulus (intestinal twisting causing obstruction), ischemia (inadequate blood flow to a part of the body caused by constriction or blockage of the blood vessels), and death. When magnets pass in the body beyond the stomach, they can attract each other through divergent intestinal walls, which is when obstruction can occur and when necrosis—death of cells or tissue—or intestinal perforation can occur. About 20% of all swallowing accidents require surgery.

We recently wrote that The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) began the process to set new federal standards for small, high-powered magnet toy sets. The Commission’s 4 to 0 vote to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking came as CPSC staff estimated that small, high powered magnet sets were associated with 1,700 emergency room-treated injuries between 2009 and 2011, most of which occurred in children between the ages of 4 and 12.

“As objects, the magnet sets have some appeal for virtually all age groups,” the CPSC proposed rule states. “First, they tend to capture attention because they are shiny and reflect light. Physically, they are smooth, which gives them tactile appeal, and they make soft snapping sounds as one manipulates them. As a stimulus set, they have the properties of novelty, which arouses curiosity; incongruity, which tends to surprise and amuse; and complexity, which tends to challenge and maintain interest.” Teens tend to use the magnets as body art and to make it appear that they have facial piercings, noted MedPageToday.

Despite labeling that has lowered the age range for these objects from 13 years of age and older to 14 years of age and older, warnings have had an insignificant effect, according to the survey, said R. Adam Noel, MD, of Children’s Hospital in New Orleans and the study’s lead author, wrote MedPageToday. Gilger says to eliminate the threat by eliminating the exposure. “If you have these in your home, throw them away,” he said. “It is just not worth finding out what happens if your child swallows them.”

Following meetings with members of NASPGHAN, the CPSC reached out to all of the 13 U.S. makers of the high-powered magnets, urging them to remove the dangerous components from their products. While 11 acknowledged the safety issue and agreed to do so, two did not. The magnets are still broadly available oversees, said Gilger, wrote MedPageToday.

At the recent NASPGHAN press briefing, Jonathan and Meaghin Jordan spoke about their two-year-old son, Braylon. Braylon ingested eight of the small high-powered magnets, spent 30 days in pediatric intensive care, underwent a number of surgeries, now only has one-sixth of his small intestine, and is on total parenteral nutrition he receives from a backpack he must wear all of the time. While Braylon can eat small amounts of foods, Gilger said he will probably never eat normally, said MedPageToday.

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