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 24 May 2018

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News

Sword swallowers more likely to be injured when distracted

Sword swallowers are more likely to sustain esophageal injury if they are distracted or are using multiple or unusual swords, finds a study in this week's Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal.

News image

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Sword swallowers who can swallow a non-retractable solid steel blade at least 2 centimetres wide and 38 centimetres long are recognized by the Sword Swallowers' Association International.

Despite the obvious dangers of the profession, English medical literature contains only 2 case reports of injury resulting from sword swallowing.

Dr Brian Witcombe and colleagues from England explored the techniques and side-effects of sword swallowing.

The research team reported that 46 Sword Swallowers' Association International members took part in the study.

Of these, 19 had experienced sore throats whilst learning, and many had suffered lower chest pain following some performances.

1 swallower was distracted by a ‘misbehaving' macaw on his shoulder
British Medical Journal

The researchers found that 6 had suffered perforation of the pharynx and esophagus, 1 other was told a sword had ‘brushed' the heart.

The team observed that these injuries occurred either when swallowers used multiple or unusual swords, or when they were distracted.

The team identified 1 swallower who lacerated his pharynx when trying to swallow a curved sabre.

Another suffered lacerations after being distracted by a ‘misbehaving' macaw on his shoulder.

The average age of those taking part in the study was 31, most were self-taught and had learnt the skill at an average age of 25 years.

The researchers found that 9 learnt the skill as teenagers.

There was no apparent correlation between height and the length of sword swallowed.

The researchers noted that the longest sword swallowed was 60 centimetres.

The cost of medical care was a concern for the group, with 3 members receiving medical bills ranging from £12,000 to £37,000, or $23,000 to $70,000.

Dr Witcombe's team concludes, “Sword swallowers are more likely to sustain an injury, such as a perforation of the esophagus, if they are distracted or are using multiple or unusual swords.”

BMJ 2006: 333: 1285-7
25 December 2006

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