Man's 'heart attack' caused by a battery - which he swallowed intentionally

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  • When a man arrived at the emergency department of an Italian hospital, doctors assumed he was having a heart attack
  • However, on an X-ray, they spotted a battery, which he had intentionally swallowed
  • An electrocardiogram (EKG) indicated a heart attack, they wrote, and explained how this happened

Knives, razor blades, pop tops on drink cans, batteries –  these are all things that have made their way down the human gullet. In one case, swallowing a battery led a man to the emergency room at Santa Maria Nuova Hospital in Florence, Italy.

Doctors initially thought the 26-year-old patient was having a heart attack, but after performing tests, they found that the patient had swallowed an AA battery.

According to a report in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, the battery interfered with the patient's electrocardiogram (EKG), a measure of the heart's electrical activity.

The doctors wrote that it's mostly children who swallow batteries, but in 1987, in a rare case involving an adult, a 38-year-old woman with paranoid schizophrenia swallowed five AA batteries.

Another report involving an adult describes a prisoner who swallowed “four double-A batteries, three battery casings, and a small pen”.

In the present case, doctors reported that the patient’s heart readings returned to normal once they removed the battery, and that, fortunately, there were no reported complications. 

No other symptoms of heart attack

The patient, who was a prison inmate, reportedly complained of stomach pain two hours after intentionally swallowing the AA battery. When doctors performed an X-ray and spotted the battery, they proceeded to do an EKG. During this procedure, electrodes are placed on the chest in order to record the electrical activity of the heart.

The EKG showed a sign of a heart attack known as "ST segment elevation". Dr Guy Mintz, director of cardiovascular health and lipidology at Northwell Health's Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital in Manhasset, New York, explained to Live Science that this means that a particular segment of the EKG, which is normally flat, is elevated. Mintz was not involved in the case.

However, apart from the EKG, the inmate displayed no other symptoms of a heart attack. He also had no history of cardiovascular disease. In fact, his only risk factor for heart disease was cigarette smoking, the doctors wrote. The heart muscle proteins that are released into the blood during a heart attack were also functioning normally. 

Why did it look like he was having a heart attack?

The battery's contact with stomach acid that may have produced an electric current that travelled to the heart and affected the EKG, could be the reason why he appeared to be having a heart attack, the doctors explained in their report.

Mintz labelled the new report "interesting niche information” and advised that doctors treating patients who swallowed batteries check for biological markers of heart function before reacting to an abnormal electrocardiogram.

The dangers of swallowing batteries

Although the patient didn’t actually experience a heart attack, swallowing a battery is nevertheless dangerous as it can still harm the heart.

In addition to this, breakdown of the battery can lead to chemical leakage or intestinal obstruction, Mintz told Live Science.

READ | Man ends up with multiple tapeworms in his brain after eating a hotpot

READ | Child swallowed a battery? Don't wait for it to pass naturally

READ | Tapeworm cancer cells found in Colombian man

Image: Hilary Halliwell from Pexels

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