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Overview of Foreign Bodies in the GI Tract

By Raghav Bansal, MBBS, Aaron E. Walfish, MD

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A variety of foreign bodies may enter the GI tract intentionally or accidentally. Many foreign bodies pass through the GI tract spontaneously, but some become impacted, causing symptoms and sometimes complications. The role of imaging in the management of foreign body ingestion is not standardized. Nearly all impacted objects can be removed endoscopically, but surgery is occasionally necessary. Timing of endoscopy varies depending on the type of foreign body ingested.

Foreign bodies in the GI tract may be

The majority of foreign body ingestions occur in children. Deliberate and recurrent foreign body ingestion is described more commonly among prison inmates and psychiatric patients. Denture wearers, the elderly, and inebriated people are prone to accidentally swallowing inadequately masticated food (particularly meat), which may become impacted in the esophagus. Smugglers who swallow drug-filled balloons, vials, or packages to escape detection (see Body Packing and Body Stuffing) may develop intestinal obstruction. The packaging may rupture, leading to drug overdose.

The common complications of foreign body ingestion include

  • Ulceration

  • Lacerations

  • Perforation

  • GI obstruction

  • Fistula formation

  • Bacteremia

Treatment reference

1. ASGE Standards of Practice Committee, Ikenberry SO, Jue TL, Anderson MA, et al : Management of ingested foreign bodies and food impactions. Gastrointest Endosc 73:1085–1091, 2011. doi: 10.1016/j.gie.2010.11.010.

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