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Girl's Abdominal Blockage Reportedly Caused by Hundreds of Undigested Boba Pearls

Oh cool, just the nightmare we needed today.

by Jelisa Castrodale
11 June 2019, 2:01pm

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

Any time I read the words "CT scan" and "bubble tea" in the subject of the same sentence, I involuntarily hold my breath as I make my way towards the predicate.

A couple of years ago, a set of strange white spots on a Chinese patient’s suspicious CT scan led to the unsettling (and unsubstantiated) rumor that one shop’s boba pearls were actually made from “the soles of leather shoes and old tires.” And now, after a different Chinese patient’s suspicious CT scan, doctors in the country are warning that boba pearls—even the non-rubber, all-starch kind—could collect in your abdomen and cause severe bouts of constipation.

According to AsiaOne, a 14-year-old girl from Zhejiang province told her parents that she had stomach pain, wasn’t hungry, and hadn’t had a bowel movement in at least five days. She was examined at a local hospital, and after the docs couldn’t immediately determine what was wrong, they ordered a CT scan of her abdomen. When Dr. Zhang Louzhen reviewed the images, he saw more than one hundred “granular shadows” in her abdomen, scattered from her stomach to… well, let’s just call it the far end of her alimentary canal.

The doctor asked what she had eaten before her symptoms started, and she said that she’d had a bubble tea five days ago. A single bubble tea. To that, Dr. Zhang is said to have blinked and asked her again: Seriously, what you have been eating? She stuck to her story, but the doc said she was probably just afraid of telling her parents how much boba she’d been downing. “So many undigested 'pearls' are not accumulated [from] a cup of milk tea,” he told The Paper. “ It would be caused by drinking [it] for a while.”

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Screenshot from Weibo via AsiaOne

Boba pearls are typically made of tapioca, the starchy, carb-y cassava root. But some boba manufacturers use other thickeners or even preservatives (no, probably not tires) and that can lead to constipation or gastrointestinal issues. To be clear, if you have an occasional milk tea, it’s not a big deal and you’re almost definitely not going to end up in the ER—at least from the boba, anyway.

Before she left the hospital, the girl was given a laxative and we’re assuming that she’s fine, although she might want to switch to a different drink for a few days. I hear water’s supposed to be alright.