What Happens If You Swallow A Lego?

A handful of curious pediatricians ate pieces of the toy to see how long it would take to digest — and they all lived to tell the tale.

By Jessie Schiewe

Don’t freak out if you accidentally swallow something that doesn’t belong in your body. (  Carson Arias  )

Don’t freak out if you accidentally swallow something that doesn’t belong in your body. (Carson Arias)

Everything is awesome, until your child eats a Lego.

That’s an ordeal many parents have faced, tasked with curious kids who swallow the colorful, candy-shaped toys ostensibly to find out what they taste or feel like. For infants, this is common behavior. While it can be a sign of teething, it’s also a form of oral exploration and learning. In older humans, a tendency to eat non-nutritional items, like small plastic toys, paint chips, or dirt, can be an indication of an eating disorder called pica.

Motives aside, ingesting non-food objects is more common than you’d think, especially among youth. Nationwide in 2007, there were more than 125,000 reported incidents of people below the age of 20 swallowing foreign objects.

Most of the times, these cases are non-lethal and sort out themselves. So long as the object ingested is not harmful or toxic to the body, like a battery or certain medications, the person is usually able to pass the object naturally through their stool. How long that takes depends on what was swallowed. Coins are the most commonly consumed non-food items and multiple studies have attempted to determine just how long it takes for the body to expel them. (Answer: anywhere from 3.1 to 5.8 days).

But what about toys, the second-most ingested non-food items? Until recently, little research had been done to find the length of time it takes for them to exit  the body. Now, thanks to six intrepid pediatricians who each swallowed one yellow Lego head, we have a better idea.

Published in November in the Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health, the international study tracked the progress of the tiny Lego pieces from ingestion to expulsion — meaning that yes, the doctors sifted their poop to locate the object. They each kept a daily diary of their bowel movements, recording minute details like texture that could potentially impact the toy’s travel times through their systems.

Despite the potentially off-putting hands-on nature of the experiment, it’s clear the participants had fun with the study, creating scaling systems with appropriately immature acronyms to judge their data. Their turds’ qualities had to be rated on the SHAT (Stool Hardness and Transit) scale, and on the day when each doctor birthed their Lego piece, they received their FART (Found and Retrieved Time) score.

The study found that swallowed Legos, like coins and other small objects, can quickly, and painlessly, pass through the body. On the whole, it took between 1.14 and 3.04 days for the plastic heads to pass through the participants’ systems, with the average length being 1.71 days. That’s a lot faster than a penny (which takes around 4 days on average to exit the body). The female participants in the study tended to pass the Lego pieces the fastest, finding them in their second bowel movement after ingestion. The males located them within their third.

And one doctor never found his little Lego head at all. Though he searched his stool for a total of two weeks after ingesting the toy, it never appeared.

But he need not worry. It could be a matter of oversight on his part — maybe he did not examine his waste thoroughly enough. Or maybe he just takes more time to digest things.

If anything, that doctor’s missing piece only further accentuates the study’s point: Don’t freak out if you accidentally swallow something that’s not food. Our bodies are astoundingly capable of expelling foreign objects on their own. Just be patient and give them time.

Also, please don’t feel the need to search through your poop to find it. This is not a see-it-to-believe-it situation. As the doctors noted in their research, it might “reassure” you to look for it, but “no [one] should be expected to [do so].”  Not only is it gross, but it will be a wasted effort. The item will eventually work its way out — whether or not you take note of it.


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