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electrical injury

Alternative Names 
electrical shock, high-voltage electric shock

An electrical injury occurs when the skin or internal organs are exposed to electric current.

What are the signs and symptoms of the injury? 
The signs and symptoms of an electrical injury can vary depending on the type and amount of current but may include: What are the causes and risks of the injury? 
The human body conducts electricity very well. Direct contact with an electrical current can be fatal. Although the cause of an electrical injury is often obvious, these injuries can be overlooked at the time they occur. Sometimes very severe electrical shocks look minor. Outwardly, the shock may only cause small burns. However, internal damage can be very serious.

The most easily damaged organs are the heart and the brain. Cardiac arrest, which occurs when the heart stops beating, can occur if the beating mechanism of the heart is affected. There can also be significant muscle destruction from the current passing through the body.

Electrical injuries commonly occur when:
  • young children bite or chew on electrical appliances or cords
  • young children poke an object, a finger, or other part of the body into an electrical outlet
Anyone may be injured by:
  • accidental contact with exposed parts of electric appliances or wiring
  • electrical flashes from high-voltage power lines
  • electric machines
  • lightning
What can be done to prevent the injury? 
Some electrical injuries in children can be avoided by:
  • using safety plugs in all outlets
  • keeping electric cords out of the reach of children
  • teaching children about the dangers of electricity
Everyone should avoid electrical hazards at home and work by:
  • making sure there are no electric lines in the way when working with ladders, poles, or other tall objects
  • not using electric appliances while showering or wet
  • never touching electric appliances while touching faucets or cold water pipes in the kitchen
  • not working on electric appliances in the house without knowing how to do the wiring and remembering to turn off all of the electricity first
  • using common sense and looking around carefully when working with electricity
How is the injury diagnosed? 
An electrical injury is diagnosed if a person reports being shocked or is seen getting shocked.

What are the treatments for the injury? 
First aid treatment for electrical injury includes the following:
  • If possible, shut off the electric current by unplugging the cord, removing the appropriate fuse from the fuse box, or turning off the circuit breakers.
  • Do not touch the person with bare hands while he or she is still in contact with the electrical source. If the current cannot be turned off, an object that does not conduct electricity can be used to push the source of the current away from the person or to push the person away from the source. A broom, chair, rug, or something rubber is a good choice. A wet object or a metal object would probably conduct electricity, causing the helper to get shocked.
  • Try to move the person while standing on something dry that does not conduct electricity. Failing to follow these measures can injure the helper.
  • Check for signs of circulation, such as normal breathing, coughing, or movement in response to stimulation.
  • Contact the emergency medical system immediately.
  • Start cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, if the person stops breathing. Use 15 chest compressions for every 2 mouth-to-mouth rescue breaths.
  • Stay with the person until medical help arrives.
  • Avoid moving the victim's head or neck after laying him or her down. The neck and back should not be bent unless the rescuer is certain that there are no other major injuries.
What are the side effects of the treatments? 
The chest compressions of CPR can cause vomiting, injuries to internal organs, or broken ribs. Vomiting can be a problem if the vomit is caught in the airway and inhaled into the lungs.

Moving a person to treat him or her can cause further damage if there is an internal injury, such as a fractured vertebrae, which is a break in the bone that surrounds the spinal cord.

What happens after treatment for the injury? 
A person who receives an electrical injury should be seen by a healthcare professional. It is important to check for injury to body organs such as the brain and heart.

Author: James Broomfield, MD
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 19/12/2004
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.

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