Crohn’s or Ketchup? For six years, lady thought she had intestinal illness — it was a Heinz packet

Crohn's or Ketchup? For six years, woman thought she had intestinal disease — it was a Heinz packet

A woman was diagnosed with Crohn‘s disease, but it turns out a Heinz packet was piercing her intestine

Doctors found an "inflammatory mass" containing two pieces of plastic bearing the word "Heinz" in a British woman's abdomen.British Medical Journal

January 4, 2018
2:04 PM EST

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Share this storyCrohn's or Ketchup? For six years, woman thought she had intestinal disease — it was a Heinz packet

For six years, a woman in the U.K. thought she had Crohn’s disease. It turns out that it was actually a Heinz packet that was piercing her intestine.

The 41-year-old woman suffered from severe abdominal pain, in what was described as “episodes” that would last for up to three days, accompanied with up to five bowel movements a day. After several doctor’s appointments and colonoscopies, she was diagnosed with Crohn’s, a type of inflammatory bowel disease.

As the years went by, despite medical intervention, her symptoms worsened. Eventually, doctors decided to perform surgery to get a closer look at her abdomen. They found an “inflammatory mass” containing two pieces of plastic bearing the word “Heinz.” It wasn’t clear what Heinz product it was specifically, but it was immediately removed. 

The woman said she had no recollection of consuming the packet, or of using the product in one of her meals (although admittedly, it might be difficult to recall a meal from six years ago). After the packet was removed, the woman’s symptoms disappeared completely, leading the doctor’s to conclude that she did not in fact suffer from Crohn’s, and reporting that, “it is important to consider alternative surgical diagnoses in patients with presumed Crohn’s disease unresponsive to standard treatment.”

Crohn’s causes chronic inflammation in the digestive tract and leads to extreme abdominal pain, diarrhea, and fatigue. The exact cause of the disease remains unknown, and there is no one diagnostic test. Instead, doctor’s will undertake a series of tests and procedures to determine if any part of the digestive tract is inflamed. 

This could explain how the woman was misdiagnosed — she presented with all of the typical symptoms of Crohn’s, and her colonoscopies showed intestinal inflammation.

The case is documented in a , and doctors say it is the first known report of a synthetic plastic packaging mimicking Crohn’s disease. But this it isn’t the first time a foreign object has caused Crohn’s-like symptoms. The report highlights four cases — including a seven-year-old boy and a 35-year-old man — where a toothpick got lodged in the intestine, and the patient was mistakenly diagnosed with Crohn’s. 

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