Electrical Injuries

  • Medical Author: James Kimo Takayesu, MD
  • Medical Editor: N Stuart Harris, MD, MFA
  • Medical Editor: Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD
  • Medical Editor: Michael E Zevitz, MD

Facts on Electrical Injuries

  • Electrical injury occurs when an electric current runs through a portion of the body, usually from either a man-made source or lightning.
  • The outside of the person’s body may appear to have only minor injuries, but internal injuries may still be significant.
  • As current enters the body (source), it causes surface to deep burns, damages muscle and organs as it passes through the body, and eventually exits at another distant point (ground), which causes a second burn or wound.
  • The electrical current may trigger irregular heartbeat or stop the heart entirely.
  • Among man-made sources, direct current (DC) tends to throw people from the source after one shock.
  • Alternating current (AC) is more dangerous. AC causes muscle spasms that often prolong contact with the power source, which increases the extent of the injury.

Electrical Injury Symptoms

  • Source and ground burns caused by electric current may be second to third degree and limited in size. If the current passes along the skin, the tissue may have extensive partial thickness burns (second degree).
  • People who have an electrical injury may be confused, be disoriented, suffer hearing loss, and feel weak.
  • Severe cases involve heartbeat irregularities or cause the heart to stop, requiring immediate cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Electrical Injuries Treatment

  • Electrical burns should be treated appropriately.
  • If the person with the electrical injury is near the power source (such as a live wire), do not approach. Call 911.
  • Unconscious people with electrical injuries should be assessed for CPR needs.
  • If significant electrical injury has occurred, the neck and back should be protected from further injury. Try to avoid moving the injured person.

When to Seek Medical Care for Electrical Injuries

  • All people who have an electrical injury with significant burns, even if the burn area is small, should be evaluated for muscle injury.
  • All burns around the mouth, especially in small children, require medical evaluation.

For More Information on Electrical Injuries

MedlinePlus, Electrical injury

MedlinePlus, Burns

Electric Shock Symptoms

A person who has suffered an electric shock may have very little external evidence of injury or may have obvious severe burns. Some people may be in cardiac arrest after electric shock or a lightning strike.

  • Burns are usually most severe at the points of contact with the electrical source and the ground.
  • In addition to burns, other injuries are possible if the person has been thrown clear of the electrical source by forceful muscular contraction.
  • Pain in a hand or foot or a deformity of a part of the body may indicate a possible broken bone resulting from the electric shock causing violent muscle contraction.
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Medically reviewed by Avrom Simon, MD; Board Certified Preventative Medicine with Subspecialty in Occupational Medicine


"Environmental and weapon-related electrical injuries"