Updated 03 September 2020

A teenager swallowed a sewing pin and only realised it after it pierced his heart

Swallowing a sharp object by accident can be dangerous – especially when it ends up lodged in a vital organ.

  • Small foreign objects are usually able to travel safely through the digestive tract
  • Sharp objects, however, can be more dangerous
  • In this case, a pin ended up being lodged in the patient's heart

A 17-year old boy accidentally swallowed a sewing pin while tailoring clothes – usually, one would notice and react to swallowing such a risky object. But to doctors’ surprise, the pin lodged itself in an unusual location and was only discovered days later – in the boy’s heart.

According to a case study published in The Journal of Emergency Medicine, the 17-year-old went to the emergency room after experiencing a sharp chest pain that radiated into his back. It got worse when he lay down or took a deep breath.

When doctors performed an electrocardiogram (EKG), it revealed an abnormal rhythm and they became concerned that the boy may have perimyocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle and its membrane. A blood test also revealed increased protein levels, which pointed to heart injury.

A CT scan then revealed a “linear metallic foreign object” lodged in the boy’s heart. The pin was about 3.5cm long and stuck out of the heart’s right ventricle.

The teen only remembered later that he had been tailoring his clothes and may have swallowed a pin that he held in his mouth. After open-heart surgery, the doctors revealed that it was indeed a sewing pin.

A rare case

Although cases of foreign objects in the heart have been documented before, this only rarely happens in children and teens.

The doctors stated that, in this case, the pin likely travelled directly from his stomach towards his heart, even though it could have been from another location in his gastrointestinal tract, most likely the oesophagus or intestine.

The authors of the report also wrote that this case may lead to new implications for the treatment of sharp objects that are swallowed. Currently, the guidelines only state that sharp objects should be removed after causing symptoms, but in this case, it could have resulted in devastating complications, even in the absence of symptoms.

Luckily, the boy fully recovered after his surgery and displayed no further complications.

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