Doctors ‘miss’ killer toothpick in patient’s throat, despite x-ray

The story of a Coimbra woman with trouble swallowing being prescribed antibiotics after an x-ray showed nothing has made it into the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine.

The woman died five days later, with the cause of death becoming apparent during autopsy: a small sliver of toothpick lodged in her throat that the x-ray had missed.

Says the Journal, doctors must be more vigilant and expect the unexpected.

As it was, even though the woman said she felt there was something stuck in her throat, the complaint was taken relatively lightly.

The doctors attending her even suspected she might have been suffering a psychological disorder, say reports today.

When she was discovered days later dead in her bathroom with blood coming from her nose, suspicions at first fell on her partner.

No one considered the ‘catch in the throat’ until pathologist César Lares dos Santos discovered an area full of pus … and the offending piece of toothpick.

His diagnosis was that the inflammation from the toothpick interfered with nerves that control the brain, heart and lungs, resulting in a heart attack. 

The motto of this story, says Santos, is that doctors should try and maintain a “high level of suspicion for less common pathologies”.

They should also “avoid pre-conceived diagnoses like those associated with psychiatric disorders”.

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