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Asian J Surg. 2005 Apr;28(2):109-15.

Retained surgical sponges (gossypiboma).

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Department of Surgery, Faculty of Medicine, King Abdullah University Hospital, Jordan University of Science and Technology, Irbid, Jordan.



Retained surgical sponges are seldom reported due to medicolegal implications. Awareness of this problem among surgeons and radiologists is essential to avoid unnecessary morbidity. We present our experience with this entity and review the related literature.


The medical records of 11 patients who were diagnosed as having retained surgical sponges from 1990 to 2003 were reviewed.


The incidence was 1:5,027 inpatient operations. There were four males and seven females with a median age of 45 years. The original operations were gynaecological (n=4), general (n=4), urological (n=2) and laminectomy (n=1). In seven cases, the original operation was performed on an emergency basis. Five patients were obese. A presumed correct sponge count was documented in eight cases. The median time between the original procedure and diagnosis of retained sponges was 12 months. The tentative diagnosis was intestinal obstruction (4 patients), urinary tract infection (1 patient), Crohn's disease (1 patient) and tumour recurrence (1 patient). The correct diagnosis was suggested in the remaining four patients. Surgical removal of the retained sponges was carried out in all cases except one, in which the patient passed the sponge spontaneously through the rectum.


Retained sponges are more common in obese patients and after emergency surgery. A high degree of suspicion is important for preoperative diagnosis. Despite the use of radio-opaque sponges and thorough sponge counting, this moribund mishap still occurs. Although human errors cannot be completely abolished, continuous medical training and strict adherence to regulations should reduce the incidence to a minimum.

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