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Medical News & Perspectives
January 13, 1999

A Thought for Your Pennies

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JAMA. 1999;281(2):122. doi:10.1001/jama.281.2.122-JMN0113-3-1

Physicians tend to shrug off the concern of parents who show up with children who have swallowed coins, particularly when no symptoms accompany the incident. However, new evidence suggests that they should not be indifferent to the problems that may follow ingestion of one-cent pieces minted during the last two decades.

The traditional copper penny was replaced in 1982 by a zinc coin with a thin copper coating. The zinc is highly acid digestible and can cause problems such as ulcers, anemia, and damage to the kidneys, liver, and bone marrow, says Sara M. O'Hara, MD, a pediatric radiologist at Duke University Medical Center.