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Ask the Medical Expert Archives 2000-2004

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Needle in the Body
September 2001

Q. My father had surgery to repair a hernia and during the surgery the surgeon dropped the surgical needle and was unable to retrieve it, so he left it there. Is it safe to leave such an object in the body for the rest of his life, or should he have it removed? He is 46-years-old.

A. The body's reaction to a foreign object is to "wall it off", usually by depositing scar tissue around the object so it can't move. This may then cause problems or not. Before the scar tissue process takes place, there would be a risk that a sharp needle could damage a blood vessel or other internal structure, or lead to an infection.

MEDICAL ARTICLES (available through the library of a hospital or medical school):

1. Costa Monteiro E, Hall Barbosa C, Andrade Lima E, Costa Ribeiro P, Boechat P.
Locating steel needles in the human body using a SQUID magnetometer. Phys Med Biol. 2000 Aug;45(8):2389-402. PMID: 10958202

2. Porter MD, Schriver JP.
Ultrasound-guided Kopans' needle location and removal of a retained foreign body. Surg Endosc. 2000 May;14(5):500. PMID: 11287990

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