Woman With Crohn's Disease Actually Had Heinz Ketchup Packet Stuck in Her Intestines for Six Years

A 41-year-old woman who was diagnosed with Crohn's disease several years ago turned out to have a Heinz ketchup packet stuck inside her intestines. A report of her strange case, published in BMJ Case Reports, provides the odd details of how a condiment wrapper was mistaken for an inflammatory disease. Although the case was published several years ago, reports resurfaced this week, perhaps as a timely new year's reminder to watch what you eat. 

According to the report, the woman began experiencing pain and bloating in her abdomen in 2007. Her appetite was normal, she wasn't losing weight and her blood tests showed no signs of anything gone awry. She wasn't infected with an intestinal parasite. Her pain typically lasted for a few days, subsided and then returned. 

A biopsy of her colon taken early on in her intestinal odyssey revealed some polyps that her doctors at Heatherwood and Wexham Park Hospital in the U.K. thought could be a sign of Crohn's disease. They prescribed her an anti-inflammatory drug and kept watch. 

Four years later, the pain had moved lower down in her abdomen. With no other explanation—no tumors, no infection—her doctors assumed she had mild Crohn's disease. This inflammatory bowel disease typically affects the digestive tract and can lead to abdominal pain. Although some cases can be severe, mild Crohn's disease is not uncommon. 

But the patient's symptoms worsened. A year after beginning her prescription, she was admitted to the hospital four times because her bowels were obstructed. Imaging studies revealed a thickening of her intestinal walls that again mimicked Crohn's disease. Her doctors weighed the options, wondering if a stronger medication was warranted. But given the repeated hospital visits and worsening pain, they opted for surgery. 

And that was when they found it. During an operation to remove part of her colon, an intervention in keeping with Crohn's disease treatment, the surgeons noticed a mass at the very end of her small intestine. A closer look revealed, "two pieces of plastic bearing the word 'Heinz' on them," the case study authors wrote. They noted that the patient, "had no recent recollection of consuming a meal involving the product found intraoperatively." To the best of her knowledge, she had never eaten the disposable part of a single-serving ketchup packet. 

Unexpected as the case may be, this woman is not the first to have a foreign object mistaken for Crohn's disease. Several years ago, a 35-year-old man made a trip to the emergency department after three days of pain, vomiting and a slight fever. It turned out he'd swallowed a toothpick that poked through the walls of his bowel. The havoc wreaked by another swallowed toothpick was mistaken for Crohn's disease in another 2010 case. Yet another man suffered the same fate in 2015 and another in 2017.

It's true that those objects were all toothpicks, and one can perhaps more easily envision such an object making its way into the mouth in its entirety. But like the Heinz packet patient, none of these patients remembered swallowing the source of their misery. 



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