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Tricks of the Trade: Low tech solutions to esophageal foreign bodies

Posted Oct 21 2009 10:08pm
Doxycycline pills

Patients can present to Emergency Departments with esophageal foreign bodies. Recently, a patient presented with a doxycycline pill stuck in her esophagus at the mid-chest level. She was taking it for pneumonia. Despite drinking deluges of water for the past 12 hours, the pill remains stuck. You know that doxycycline is one of several medications (along with iron or potassium supplements, quinidine, aspirin, bisphosphonates) known for causing erosive pill esophagitis.


She presents to your ED.
What do you do?


With so many direct visualization tools in the ED now available to emergency physicians such as Glidescopes and nasopharyngoscopes, you might be tempted to take a look. However, you can first take a low-tech approach to propel the pill into the stomach. Each of these options has its unique risks and complications, and the risks/benefits should be weighed appropriately.
  • Glucagon IV - relaxes lower esophageal sphincter (LES)
  • Nitroglycerin SL - relaxes LES - beware of acute hypotension
  • Nifedifine SL - relaxes LES - beware of acute hypotension
  • Carbonated beverage PO- gas forming agent to increase intraesophageal pressure
Instead of pharmacologically moving the pill into the stomach, you can also consider mechanically pushing the pill down using an orogastric tube or blindly pulling it out through the mouth using a foley catheter.

Trick of the Trade: What did we do?
Before we entertained the pharmacologic options, we gave the patient a can of Ensure, because it has a higher viscosity than water. Fifteen minutes later, the pill was pushed into the stomach and the patient's foreign-body symptoms resolved. A simple $1.50 solution.

Teaching point
Tell all your patients receiving doxycycline to drink plenty of fluids when taking the medication.

Caveat

These low-tech solutions are only appropriate for pill foreign bodies and impacted food boluses in the esophagus, which are at low risk for esophageal perforation. These are NOT applicable to special situations such as button batteries, sharp objects, fish/chicken bones, and coins.
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