Woman's Mysterious Liver Problem Has Surprising Cause

By Amir Khan on September 11, 2012 1:25 PM EDT

Like an episode straight from the show House, a woman with a liver problem found out her pain had a surprising cause, according to a new study, published in the journal BMJ Case Reports.

It all started with abdominal pain. The unnamed woman was getting sicker every day and experiencing nausea, vomiting and low blood pressure. Doctors gave her antibiotics, but she did not get better. Eventually, she went into organ failure and had to be admitted to the hospital.

An ultrasound revealed a pus-filled cavity in her liver, and exploratory surgery found the culprit -- a toothpick. Somehow, the woman swallowed a toothpick, and it made its way into her liver. And the problem is more common, and deadlier, than people may think.

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"Foreign body ingestion is not an uncommon problem," the researchers wrote in their report.

In total, there have been 17 reported cases where people have swallowed toothpicks and wound up with a liver abscess, according to the study.

Typically, when a foreign object leaves the gastrointestinal tract, it has a sharp point. This allows it to perforate the stomach or the small intestine and slip out, causing a host of problems.

Symptoms are usually nonspecific, making the problem difficult to diagnose, researchers said. While a CT or ultrasound can find the problem quickly, doctors typically try antibiotics or other medications before performing such tests -- meaning the problem can linger around.

All in all, the woman was very lucky, researchers wrote.

"Toothpick injury of the gastrointestinal tract is often associated with considerable morbidity," they said.

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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