Intended for healthcare professionals


Sword swallowing and its side effects

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 21 December 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:1285
  1. Brian Witcombe, consultant radiologist1,
  2. Dan Meyer, executive director2
  1. 1Department of Radiology, Gloucestershire Royal NHS Foundation Trust, Gloucester GL1 3NN
  2. 2Sword Swallowers' Association International, 3729 Belle Oaks Drive, Antioch, Tennessee 37013, USA
  1. Correspondence to: B Witcombe brian.witcombe{at}
  • Accepted 28 October 2006


Objective To evaluate information on the practice and associated ill effects of sword swallowing.

Design Letters sent to sword swallowers requesting information on technique and complications.

Setting Membership lists of the Sword Swallowers' Association International.

Participants 110 sword swallowers from 16 countries.

Results We had information from 46 sword swallowers. Major complications are more likely when the swallower is distracted or swallows multiple or unusual swords or when previous injury is present. Perforations mainly involve the oesophagus and usually have a good prognosis. Sore throats are common, particularly while the skill is being learnt or when performances are too frequent. Major gastrointestinal bleeding sometimes occurs, and occasional chest pains tend to be treated without medical advice. Sword swallowers without healthcare coverage expose themselves to financial as well as physical risk.

Conclusions Sword swallowers run a higher risk of injury when they are distracted or adding embellishments to their performance, but injured performers have a better prognosis than patients who suffer iatrogenic perforation.


  • We thank Steven Kay of Manchester Business School for statistical help and members of the SSAI.

  • Contributors: BW is guarantor and designed the study. DM (Dan{at} has attended four international conventions arranged by the SSAI, maintains its archive, and has had contact with most known sword swallowers over several years.

    Funding: None.

  • Competing interests: None declared.

  • Ethical approval: Not required.

  • Accepted 28 October 2006
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