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Alternative Names Return to topElectrical shock
Definition Return to top
An electrical injury can occur to the skin or internal organs when a person is directly exposed to an electrical current.
Considerations Return to top
The human body is a good conductor of electricity. Direct contact with electrical current can be fatal. While some electrical burns look minor, there still may be serious internal damage, especially to the heart, muscles, or brain.
About 1,000 people die of elecrtric shock each year in the United States.
The affect of an electric shock on an individual depends on the intensity of the voltage to which the person was exposed, the route the current took through the body, the persons's state of health, and the speed and adequacy of treatment.
Electric current can cause injury in three main ways:
Causes Return to top
Symptoms Return to top
Symptoms may include:
First Aid Return to top
1. If safely possible, shut off the electrical current. Unplug the cord, remove the fuse from the fuse box, or turn off the circuit breakers. Simply turning off an appliance may NOT stop the flow of electricity.
2. Call for medical help.
3. If the current can't be turned off, use a non-conducting object, such as a broom, chair, rug, or rubber doormat to push the victim away from the source of the current. Do NOT use a wet or metal object. If possible, stand on something dry and non-conducting, such as a mat or folded newspapers. Do NOT attempt to rescue a victim near active high-voltage lines.
4. Once the victim is free from the source of electricity, check the victim's airway, breathing, and pulse. If either has stopped or seems dangerously slow or shallow, start first aid (CPR).
5. If the victim has a burn, remove any clothing that comes off easily, and rinse the burned area in cool running water until the pain subsides. Give first aid for burns.
6. If the victim is faint, pale, or shows other signs of shock, lay him or her down, with the head slightly lower than the trunk of the body and the legs elevated, and cover him or her with a warm blanket or a coat.
7. Stay with the victim until medical help arrives.
8. Electrical injury is frequently associated with explosions or falls that can cause additional traumatic injuries, including both obvious external injuries and concealed internal injuries. Avoid moving the victim's head or neck if a spinal injury is suspected. Administer appropriate first aid as needed for other wounds or fractures.
DO NOT Return to top
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call for emergency medical help if the victim is unconscious, confused, has difficulty breathing, has skin or mouth burns or other extensive burns, or was in contact with a high-voltage source.
Prevention Return to top
References Return to top
Fish RM. Electrical injuries. In: Tintinalli JE, Kelen GD, Stapczynski JS, Ma OJ, Cline DM, eds. Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 6th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2004: chap 201.
Schwartz LR, Balakrishnan C. Thermal burns. In: Tintinalli JE, Kelen GD, Stapczynski JS, Ma OJ, Cline DM, eds. Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 6th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2004: chap 199.Update Date: 1/15/2009 Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington, Clinic. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.