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A prospective, randomized, single-blind study was carried out to determine whether gastric content is forced into the small bowel when gastric-emptying procedures are employed in self-poisoned patients. They were asked to swallow barium-impregnated polythene pellets, immediately prior to either gastric lavage or ipecacuanha-induced emesis. A second group of patients, who did not require treatment, were used as controls. Sixty patients were recruited to the study. The data show a significant difference in the number of residual pellets in the small bowel of the treated group (n = 40), when compared with the control group (P less than 0.0001). There was no statistical difference in the number of pellets in the small bowel when the treated groups were compared with each other. In addition, the inefficiency of gastric-emptying procedures is highlighted; 58.5% of the total number of pellets ingested were retained in the gastrointestinal tract of the ipecacuanha-treated group, while 51.8% of total pellets ingested were retained in the gastric lavage-treated group.