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Worst Case Scenario: I Swallowed Gum

Worst Case Scenario: I Swallowed Gum

You may have heard that swallowed gum stays in your stomach for seven years – but is it true?

You may have heard that swallowed gum stays in your stomach for seven years. But is it true? Gum sales are about $25 billion globally, so some of those pieces of chewing gum are bound to end up in stomachs around the world. What should you do if it happens to you?

Don’t Freak Out: People have been chewing some form of “gum” for centuries, long before this myth began. Gum-like resin found in the bark of certain trees was one early and lasting source. Many gums today are made using a synthetic gum base—a thick and sticky substance used to hold the gum’s ingredients together. While your body’s enzymes can break down and digest some of the gum’s ingredients, such as sweeteners, the gum base itself moves, mostly intact, through your digestive system.

What To Do Next: There isn’t much you can—or should—do once you’ve swallowed gum. There are other foods we consume that our bodies can’t completely digest, such as the outer layers of corn kernels. What can be absorbed will be absorbed—and the rest of the gum mass will find its way out of your body in stool in no more than a week. Most times, swallowing gum is completely harmless, but there have been rare instances of gum clogging up the intestines. Major indicators of this blockage are stomach discomfort and constipation. This blockage only happens if a large amount of gum is swallowed in a short period of time, or if the gum gets tangled with other non-digestible foods, like sunflower seeds.

In short, swallowing an occasional piece of gum is harmless. And while it’s not recommended, if you accidentally swallow instead of spit, it isn’t something to worry about—not for seven years, at least.  

Follow the Worst Case Scenario series for answers to more health questions!

Medically reviewed in July 2018.

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