Surgeons accidentally sew up sponges inside their patients, causing complications, far more often than has been reported, a medical journal has reported.
"Despite precautions, the incidence of this problem is grossly underestimated," doctors at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center in Tucson said.
"The true magnitude of this problem is difficult to appreciate owing to reluctance to report this complication," they added.
In a report in the March issue of the Archives of Surgery, they said their research casts doubts on previous estimates that lost sponges occurred in only one out of every 1,000 to 1,500 cases of intestinal surgery.
Once discovered, they said, the sponge should be removed because there is a high complication rate from the mishap.