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Ball magnet ingestion in children: a stronger and more dangerous attraction?
  1. James Price1,2,
  2. Georgina Malakounides3,
  3. Sarah Stibbards4,
  4. Shruti Agrawal2
  1. 1 Department of Emergency Medicine, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Cambridge, UK
  2. 2 Department of Paediatric Intensive Care, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Cambridge, UK
  3. 3 Department of Paediatric Surgery, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Cambridge, UK
  4. 4 Department of Paediatric Emergency Medicine, Alder Hey Children’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Liverpool, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr James Price, Department of Emergency Medicine, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Cambridge CB2 0QQ, UK; james.price{at}


Introduction The ingestion of small, strong, rare-earth magnets, also termed ‘ball magnets’, can rapidly result in life-threatening bowel injuries. The objective of this study was to report the incidence and management of ‘ball magnet’ ingestion in children across the UK and to discuss the potential implications for policy-makers and public awareness campaigns.

Methods In this multi-centre survey of UK major trauma centres (MTCs), paediatric patients admitted to hospital following ‘ball magnet’ ingestion from 1 January 2020 to 31 December 2020 were included.

Results Responses were received from 11 MTCs (52%) reporting a total of 53 children admitted with ‘ball magnet’ ingestion over the 1-year study period. Most patients (n=51) presented following unintentional ingestion. 36 (68%) patients presented asymptomatically following witnessed or reported ingestion. In symptomatic patients, abdominal pain and vomiting were the the most common symptoms. The median number of ‘ball magnets’ ingested was 5.0 (IQR 3.0–7.8), range 1 to 63. 27 (51%) patients underwent operative intervention; laparotomy being the the most common (n=24, 89%). There were no deaths reported during the study period.

Conclusion This multi-centre survey from the UK demonstrates the serious impact of ‘ball magnet’ ingestion in children. Clinicians, regulators and caregivers must work symbiotically in order to prevent, recognise and reduce life-threatening bowel injuries.

  • paediatrics
  • paediatric emergency medicine
  • poisoning
  • accidental

Data availability statement

Data are available on reasonable request.

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Data availability statement

Data are available on reasonable request.

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  • Handling editor Gene Yong-Kwang Ong

  • Contributors The study was conceived by SA with input from JP and GM. Statistical analysis was undertaken by JP. The manuscript was drafted by JP and SA, with critical revisions by GM and SS. All authors have agreed the final version.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests JP and SA are clinical advisors to the National Clinical Management Group for ‘Ball magnet’ Ingestion led by SS on behalf of NHS England and NHS Improvement.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.