Emergency Management of the Ingested Magnet: An Algorithmic Approach

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Accidental ingestion of foreign bodies is an increasing problem in the pediatric population. Symptoms are often nonspecific and may lead to a missed diagnosis because the ingestion event often goes unwitnessed.


We present a case of a missed diagnosis of a multiple magnet ingestion event in a pediatric patient leading to operative management. A 2-year-old boy with a 4-week history of nonspecific abdominal pain presented to the emergency department (ED) with vomiting and worsening abdominal pain. He was recently seen in the ED for nonspecific abdominal pain diagnosed as acute otitis media. In this second ED visit, the child was found to be febrile and tachycardic and had signs of peritonitis. Radiographs revealed a foreign body in the right lower quadrant. The child was taken to the operating room where multiple intestinal perforations were identified and repaired. The child had an uneventful postoperative course and was discharged 7 days later.


There are increasing awareness and growing concern over complications from pediatric magnet ingestion. Complications from neodymium magnet ingestion may include bowel obstruction, perforation, and fistula formation. The risk of complications is especially high with multiple-magnet ingestion. Pediatric foreign-body magnet ingestion may be a diagnostic challenge because the associated symptoms are nonspecific, and the ingestion is often unwitnessed.


Our case represents the missed diagnosis of 4 magnets ingested separately over time. Emergency department providers may benefit from a clinical algorithm guiding the management of these increasingly prevalent patient presentations to prevent delayed diagnoses and to decrease morbidity.

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