Selected topics: toxicology| Volume 20, ISSUE 3, P273-276, April 2001

Esophageal laceration and charcoal mediastinum complicating gastric lavage


      A 19-year-old woman underwent multiple attempts at orogastric lavage before success 5 h after ingesting approximately 24 grams of ibuprofen in a suicide attempt. Activated charcoal was administered via the lavage tube. She vomited charcoal shortly after administration and began experiencing difficulty breathing and an increase in the pitch of her voice. A chest X-ray study showed a widened mediastinum, pneumopericardium, and subcutaneous emphysema consistent with esophageal perforation that was confirmed by computed tomography scan. Surgical exploration revealed a tear in the proximal posterior esophagus with charcoal in the posterior mediastinum. She remained intubated for 7 days and was discharged 14 days after admission. This is a report of esophageal perforation with activated charcoal contamination of the mediastinum after gastric lavage. The risks and benefits of this procedure should be carefully considered in each patient prior to its use. Awake patients should be cooperative with the procedure to minimize any risk of trauma to the oropharynx or esophagus.


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