Retained surgical sponges: what the practicing clinician should know

Langenbecks Arch Surg. 2010 Nov;395(8):1001-7. doi: 10.1007/s00423-010-0684-4. Epub 2010 Jul 22.


Retained surgical sponges (RSS) are an avoidable complication following surgical operations. RSS can elicit either an early exudative-type reaction or a late aseptic fibrous tissue reaction. They may remain asymptomatic for long time; when present, symptomatology varies substantially and includes septic complications (abscess formation, peritonitis) or fibrous reaction resulting in adhesion formation or fistulation into adjacent hollow organs or externally. Plain radiograph may be useful for the diagnosis; however, computed tomography is the method of choice to establish correct diagnosis preoperatively. Removal of RSS is always indicated to prevent further complications. This is usually accomplished by open surgery; rarely, endoscopic or laparoscopic removal may be successful. Prevention is of key importance to avoid not only morbidity and even mortality but also medicolegal consequences. Preventive measures include careful counting, use of sponges marked with a radiopaque marker, avoidance of use of small sponges during abdominal procedures, careful examination of the abdomen by the operating surgeon before closure, radiograph in the operating theater (either routinely or selectively), and recently, usage of barcode and radiofrequency identification technology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abdomen* / surgery
  • Delayed Diagnosis
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Diagnostic Imaging
  • Foreign Bodies / complications
  • Foreign Bodies / diagnosis*
  • Foreign Bodies / prevention & control
  • Foreign Bodies / surgery
  • Foreign-Body Migration / complications
  • Foreign-Body Migration / diagnosis
  • Foreign-Body Migration / prevention & control
  • Foreign-Body Migration / surgery
  • Humans
  • Laparoscopy
  • Malpractice / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Medical Errors*
  • Reoperation
  • Risk Factors
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Surgical Sponges*