For years, one woman sought treatment for Crohn’s disease, but nothing seemed to help. When doctors finally operated on her, they realized she didn’t have Crohn’s at all.

Ricardo Ricote Rodriguez/Flickr

As the Guardian reports, the anonymous 41-year-old woman had all the symptoms of a severe condition. But after six years, doctors had yet to find a way to successfully treat her Crohn’s disease.

As the case report in the British Medical Journal explained, the patient’s first signs of Crohn’s were periods of abdominal pain and bloating, which later developed into severe pain and bowel obstructions as her condition worsened.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease affecting the gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms include fatigue, abdominal pain, fever, diarrhea, lack of appetite, mouth sores, and blood in the stool.

There is no cure for Crohn’s, but it is possible to alleviate the symptoms through treatment. Crohn’s also has several life-threatening risks and complications, including bowel obstruction, ulcers, fistulas, and malnutrition. In addition, the disease is associated with a higher risk of colon cancer.

With the woman’s condition growing steadily worse, doctors turned to surgery as the best option for someone who was not responding to other treatment. Using a camera, surgeons made a small incision in the woman’s abdomen and found an inflamed mass.

Doctors investigated the mass and found the key to the woman’s discomfort. As the report states, the woman’s small intestine “was found to contain two pieces of plastic bearing the word ‘Heinz’ on them.”

In other words, there were two small pieces of a ketchup packet lodged in her intestine.

The woman could not remember eating the meal that ended up causing pieces of a Heinz packet to get stuck in her GI tract. But removing the pieces alleviated her condition. And she remained symptom-free five months later.

For the doctors involved in treating the woman, the lesson was clear — when a patient isn’t responding to the usual treatment, you may need to consider the possibility that something else is going on. As the report concluded:

“It is important to consider alternative surgical diagnoses in patients with presumed Crohn’s disease unresponsive to standard treatment.”

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