TORONTO -- Doctors are seeing a growing number of children who have swallowed super-strong magnets, which can adhere together inside the body and cause life-threatening gastrointestinal problems such as a perforated bowel.
These spherical-shaped neodymium-iron-boron magnets are 10 to 20 times more powerful than traditional ferrite magnets and can be stuck together to make such novelty items as adult desktop toys and jewelry.
The ball-like magnets, which typically range from marble-size to smaller than a pea, can easily be ingested by young children, said Dr. Daniel Rosenfield, a pediatric resident at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children.
There were no cases at the hospital prior to 2008, but between that year and April of last year, doctors treated 19 children who swallowed the magnets.
A 2012 survey of members of the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition reported 480 cases of high-powered magnet ingestions in the previous decade, 204 of them in the previous 12 months.
"They come in sets of 100 or 200, so it's very hard to keep track of all of them. And if they get into the hands of children -- younger children or older children with developmental disabilities -- they may end up being ingested," said Rosenfield.
If a child swallows a single magnet, as confirmed by X-ray, doctors wait until it is naturally "pooped out," said Rosenfield. More than one magnet can be problematic, though.
Writing in Monday's edition of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Rosenfield and co-authors at Sick Kids describe the case of a three-year-old boy who swallowed three five-millimetre magnets. The magnets had gone through his digestive tract to the lower end of his small intestine, but because they had passed in succession over a period of time, each was further along than the others. The boy recovered uneventfully, but that's not always the case.
-- The Canadian Press