An Australian woman who had been suffering from terrible stomach pain was shocked when she woke up from surgery and learned that her agony had been caused by a toothpick lodged in her colon. (Warning: The photo below is graphic.)
The 70-year-old woman had gone to the hospital four times complaining of pain before doctors decided to operate in April 2017, according to BuzzFeed News.
While inspecting the woman's colon, doctors found a sigmoid diverticulum -- an inflamed section of colon created by straining too hard while trying to defecate. Doctors removed the diverticula and cut it open to find the toothpick stuck in the walls.
Following the surgery, the woman made an "uncomplicated recovery and is now symptom-free," according to a surgeon's report cited by BuzzFeed News.
Toothpicks aren't usually the first thing that comes to mind when a patient is having stomach pain. Even the patient might not realize a toothpick is too blame. More than 50 percent of the time, people are completely unaware they have swallowed a toothpick, according to a 2013 study published in the World Journal of Surgery.
"It commonly happens to people having fun at a party and being really intoxicated and eating food with toothpicks," said Dr. Ramin Mehdipour, one of the surgeons who reported on the woman's case, according to the Herald Sun.
That same study looked at 136 known cases of toothpick swallowing. The vast majority (82 percent) of cases resulted in stomach pain, likely from the toothpick being lodged somewhere in the patient's gut. The study notes the various methods for detecting a toothpick in a patient's gut, but notes these methods didn't work 35 percent of the time.
Toothpicks and other wooden items, like pencils, are particularly difficult to detect on scans, according to NBC News.
In their report, doctors who treated the Australian woman suggest scanning for toothpicks just in case.
"Appropriate pre-operative investigations such as endoscopy and CT, despite their fairly low sensitivity, should be performed to increase the ability to accurately diagnose this condition and therefore optimize subsequent management," they wrote, according to the Australian Associated Press.
Having a toothpick stuck in your gut sounds bad enough, but the surprising risk of death makes the situation even worse. Almost 10 percent of cases examined in the study resulted in the patient dying.
"We know of the cases where people become symptomatic, but a lot of people get lucky and pass it, others have it and don't die from it though they have problems, and unfortunately, some end in morbidity," Mehdipour said, according to the Herald Sun.