Surgical sponges were left inside a woman up to nine years after her c-section, a report reveals.
The unnamed woman, 42, believed to be from Chiba in Japan, went to her doctor complaining of bloating that had lasted three years.
A scan revealed two gauze sponges had become attached to her large intestine and the tissue that connects the stomach to other parts of the abdomen.
Scientists believe the sponges were left behind after one of the patient’s two Caesarean sections, which took place nine and six years ago. Due to the sponges not being attached to her uterus, the patient would have been able to conceive a second time without problems.
Following the removal of the sponges, the patient’s symptoms have improved. She was discharged five days after her surgery.
In the US, up to 6,000 surgical instruments are left inside patients’ bodies every year. Of which, around 70 per cent are sponges and the remainder items such as clamps.
Surgical sponges were left inside a woman up to nine years after her c-section (stock)
Surgeon did not take responsibility
According to Dr Takeshi Kondo, a general medicine physician at Chiba University Hospital and a lead author of the report, the patient met with the surgeon who performed her c-sections, who stated there is insufficient evidence to support him being responsible for her symptoms.
The patient had undergone no other abdominal or pelvic procedures.
Dr Kondo added many Japanese hospitals perform routine screening of patients’ abdomens before closing wounds to ensure no items are left behind.
The report was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
How serious are surgical instruments left in the body?
Surgical items left in the bodies of patients can cause sepsis and even death. In less severe cases, people may experience pain, discomfort and bloating.
Dr Atul Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said: ‘In two-thirds of these cases, there [are] serious consequences.
‘In one case, a small sponge was left inside the brain of a patient that we studied, and the patient ended up having an infection and ultimately died.’
Such mistakes are considered so shockingly bad they are often referred to as ‘never events’, which also covers operating on the wrong patient or part of the body.
In the US, up to 6,000 surgical instruments are left inside patients’ bodies every year (stock)
What is being done to reduce the risk?
In 2004, the Joint Commission, a US-based nonprofit organisation, published the Universal Protocol, which provides guidelines on how to reduce such never events.
These recommendations include ensuring all medical equipment is accounted for at the end of every procedure, however, this can be challenging considering up to 100 sponges may be used in a single major operation.
Errors also often occur in stressful situations, when changes to the operation procedure happen suddenly or if there are a lot of distractions.
Dr Ana McKee, executive vice president and chief medical officer of the Joint Commission, told CNN: ‘If there’s music going on or side conversations or someone is on the phone, that does not meet the spirit of the Universal Protocol.’
Many hospitals in the US have switched to sponges and surgical tools with barcodes on them so they can be electronically tracked.
DOES BRAIN SURGERY ‘SPREAD’ ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE?
Brain surgery may ‘spread’ Alzheimer’s disease, research suggested in February 2017.
Amyloid proteins, which have previously been associated with the condition, may be transmitted on poorly cleaned surgical instruments used during such procedures, a study implies.
After analysing four people aged 30-to-57 with brain bleeds caused by the build-up of amyloid plaques, researchers discovered they all underwent brain surgery when they were younger.
Brain surgery may ‘spread’ Alzheimer’s disease via poorly cleaned instruments
This may explain why the amyloid protein, which normally only affects people over 65, accumulated in the younger patients, the scientists add.
Previous studies suggest tiny amounts of amyloid proteins can ‘stick’ to steel wires and be transmitted into animals’ brains.
Past findings also show abnormal proteins responsible for the degenerative brain disorder Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease can be transmitted between patients during certain medical procedures.
The researchers add, however, the build-up of amyloid proteins does not necessarily indicate Alzheimer’s disease, with none of the study’s participants showing signs of early-onset dementia.
A separate investigation by the same researchers revealed four men with a history of head trauma who underwent brain surgery as children also had these amyloid build-ups.
Lead author Professor Sebastian Brandner, from University College London, said: ‘We have found new evidence that amyloid beta pathology may be transmissible.’