Doctors swallow Lego blocks in ‘the noble tradition of self-experimentation’

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LegoA team of UK and Australian doctors who swallowed Lego and timed how long it took to pass through their bowels say the results of their research should reassure concerned parents, reports The Guardian.

Researchers at the Royal Hospital London, Leicester Royal Infirmary, Leicester University, Western Hospital Footscray, University of Melbourne Medical School, Sydney Children’s Hospital and the University of New South Wales, swallowed the head of a Lego figure – roughly 10mm by 10mm – in the “noble tradition of self-experimentation”.

Toy parts are the second most common foreign object that children swallow, and frequently cause anxiety among parents, but usually pass in a matter of days without pain or ill-effect.

The report says the team decided to put their own bodies on the line. “(We])could not ask anything of our test subjects that we would not undertake themselves,” they wrote in their paper. They developed their own metrics: the Stool Hardness and Transit (Shat) score and the Found and Retrieved Time (Fart) score.

The Fart score – how many days it took the Lego to pass through the bowels – was between 1.1 days and three days, with an average of 1.7 days. Using the Shat score, the researchers also found the consistency of their stools did not change. They compared Shat and Fart scores to see if looser stools caused quicker retrieval but found no correlation.

The report says one of the report’s authors, Grace Leo, said she hoped the report made people smile while also reassuring parents. She said parents should seek medical advice if children swallow things that are sharp, longer than 5cm, wider than 2.5cm, magnets, coins, button batteries or are experiencing pain. But most small, smooth, plastic objects will pass easily.

If parents are uncertain, they should seek medical attention, Leo added.

None of the researchers experienced any symptoms or pain due to the Lego inside them. But Leo said people should not replicate the experiment at home.

The researchers noted that it was possible children’s bowels would react differently but there was “little evidence to support this”. “If anything, it is likely that objects would pass faster in a more immature gut,” they wrote.

Leo is quoted in the report as saying: “Hopefully there is more conversation and awareness of foreign bodies, and a reassurance for parents that, for small foreign bodies, they aren’t advised to search through the stool. “If it’s a small Lego head, you don’t need to go poking through their stool. That should save parents some heartache, unless that Lego head is dearly loved.”

Aim: Children frequently ingest coins (generally with minimal reported side effects); however, the ingestion of other items has been subject to less academic study. Parental concern regarding ingestion applies across a range of materials. In this study, we aimed to determine typical transit times for another commonly swallowed object: a Lego figurine head.
Methods: Six paediatric health‐care professionals were recruited to swallow a Lego head. Previous gastrointestinal surgery, inability to ingest foreign objects and aversion to searching through faecal matter were all exclusion criteria. Pre‐ingestion bowel habit was standardised by the Stool Hardness and Transit (SHAT) score. Participants ingested a Lego head, and the time taken for the object to be found in the participants stool was recorded. The primary outcome was the Found and Retrieved Time (FART) score.
Results: The FART score averaged 1.71 days. There was some evidence that females may be more accomplished at searching through their stools than males, but this could not be statistically validated.
Conclusions: A toy object quickly passes through adult subjects with no complications. This will reassure parents, and the authors advocate that no parent should be expected to search through their child’s faeces to prove object retrieval.

Andrew Tagg, Damian Roland, Grace SY Leo, Katie Knight, Henry Goldstein, Tessa Davis

The Guardian report
Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health abstract

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