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University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center
Publish Date: 12/02/09
Media Contact: Jim Feuer, 513-636-4656
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Beverage Can Tabs Remain Swallowing Risk

Nearly 35 years ago, accidental ingestions of detachable beverage-can pull-tabs spurred an industry-wide switch to tabs that remain attached to the can after opening.

That didn’t solve the problem, according to a new Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center study.

“These stay-tabs can easily be removed from the can, particularly by fiddling children,” says Lane Donnelly, MD, radiologist-in-chief at Cincinnati Children’s and professor of radiology and pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. “Our study suggests that inadvertent ingestion is more common than suspected, that older children ingest them, and that the aluminum tabs are difficult to detect radiographically.”

Donnelly presented his study at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago.

By searching a medical information system at Cincinnati Children’s, Donnelly identified 19 cases of stay-tab ingestions over a 16-year period. The mean age of the children was 8.5 years. Most were teens.

Stay-tabs could be identified by X-ray in only four (21 percent) cases. In all identified cases, the stay-tab was found in the stomach.

“The identification of 19 ingested stay-tabs at a single children’s hospital suggests that such occurrences are not uncommon,” says Donnelly. “It’s unusual that most cases occurred among teenagers, since foreign body ingestion typically occurs in infants and toddlers. Radiologists should be aware that not seeing the tab on the X-ray does not mean the tab wasn’t swallowed.”

While these 19 cases did not require surgery, ingestion of foreign bodies with sharp edges can lead to injury of the gastrointestinal tract that do require surgical intervention, according to the RSNA.

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