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September 1974

The Natural History of Liquid Lye IngestionRationale for Aggressive Surgical Approach

Author Affiliations

From the departments of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery (Drs. Ray, Myers, Lawton, and Sautter), and pathology (Dr. Lee), Marshfield Clinic, and the Marshfield Clinic Foundation for Medical Research and Education (Mr. Wenzel), Marshfield, Wis.

Arch Surg. 1974;109(3):436-439. doi:10.1001/archsurg.1974.01360030088023

Fatal suffocating bronchial artery hemorrhage occurred in a patient recovering satisfactorily following total gastrectomy for gastric necrosis occurring after a suicide attempt by ingestion of liquid lye. The lye created a punched-out hole in the membranous trachea adjacent to the totally necrotic esophagus. The natural history of liquid lye ingestion, illustrated by this clinical course and similar cases from the literature, is a new phenomenon caused by the recent introduction of liquid lye kitchen drain cleaners. It includes (1) rapid transmural gastric and esophageal necrosis and (2) spread of necrosis to contiguous organs. Optimal management of patients should include (1) exploratory laparotomy after roentgenographic confirmation of injury, (2) total gastrectomy for gastric necrosis, (3) right-sided thoracotomy when the distal part of the intra-abdominal esophagus is questionably viable, (4) esophagectomy for esophageal necrosis, and (5) delayed restoration of gastrointestinal tract continuity with colon interposition.