Electrical Injury

Direct contact with a source of electricity can cause electrical injury. In some cases of electrical shock, there may be no visible external burn. Accidental contact with exposed parts of electrical appliances or wiring, flashing of electric arcs from high-voltage power lines, lightning, machinery, or occupational-related exposures, or poking metal objects into an electrical outlet are a possible cause of electrical injury. However, they can still result in serious internal damage, producing a complex pattern of injury and clinical manifestations. 

 High-voltage electrical trauma mainly observed in electrical workers lead to devastating physical injuries. These injuries often feature multiple removal of the damaged tissue and extensive rehabilitation. Limb amputation rates for victims who experience direct electrical contact can be as high as 75%. In general, most survivors of high-voltage electrical shock are left permanently disabled.

In addition to these high-voltage electrical shock in work places, electrical injuries also occur due to either indoor household low-voltage (less than 1000 V) electrical contact or outdoor lightning strikes. Domestic household 60-Hz electrical shocks are common and usually result in minor peripheral neurological symptoms or occasionally skin surface burns. However, more complex injuries may result depending on the current path, particularly following biting or chewing on household appliance cord disclosures or outlets in small children. Compared to a high-voltage shock that usually is mediated by an arc, low-voltage shocks are more likely to produce a prolonged, “no-let-go” contact with the power source. An involuntary, current-induced muscle spasm causes this “no-let-go” phenomenon.

A number of factors affect the passage of current through the body, many of which are not easily measured or controlled. These include the voltage and current rating of electrical power source, contact points, duration of electric shock, frequency of electrical current and the organs in the current path.

Even without visible burns, electric shock survivors may face long-term muscular pain and discomfort, fatigue, headache, problems with peripheral nerve conduction and sensation, inadequate balance and coordination, and other additional symptoms. Electrical injury often leads to neurocognitive function problems, affecting the speed of mental processing, attention, concentration, and memory. The high frequency of psychological problems is very well established and may be multifactorial in etiology. As with any traumatic and life-threatening experience, an electrical injury may result in post-traumatic psychiatric disorders, which can an impact that is equally life-changing to that caused by a major physical deformity. Experienced consultants and a supportive environment are required to facilitate rehabilitation, return to gainful employment, and normal family and social functioning.

ESR team has decades of experience in studying the mechanisms of electrical injury and treating electrical trauma. To learn more about electrical injury, contact us.