Symptoms and Signs of Electrical Injuries

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 10/7/2021

Doctor's Notes on Electrical Injuries

Electrical injuries are injuries to a portion of the body that has electricity pass through it. The electricity injury may include second- and third-degree burns of the skin, some at the entry and exit site of the current. However, internal damage is sometimes difficult to determine quickly but may cause significant muscle damage and internal organ compromise. For example, irregular heartbeats or even heartbeat stoppage can occur (CPR needs to begin and 911 needs to be called). Other symptoms include

  • feeling weak,
  • having hearing loss, and
  • being confused and/or disoriented.

DC electrical sources tend to throw people away from the electrical shocking source while AC electrical sources tend to cause muscle spasms that prolong contact (for example, it can cause the hand to flex closed thereby gripping a touched AC wire).

The cause of electrical injuries is the electrical current that generates heat as it moves through body tissue and the current that overwhelms some or most of the body's electrical system.

What Are the Treatments of Electrical Injuries?

Electrical injuries are considered by most to be a medical/surgical emergency and/or trauma. Because of the lengthy process of treating such injured patients in the hospital by critical care specialists, only the initial emergency care will be covered here. Consequently, these are the emergency treatments for the patient:

  • Safely remove yourself and the patient from the electrical source.
  • Someone should call 911 as soon as possible.
  • Check the person for the ABCD's (airway, breathing, circulation, and disabilities like inline immobilization of the spine).
  • Treat ABCD's as needed.
  • Evaluate for other injuries.
  • If possible, establish IV access, oxygen saturation, cardiac monitoring, fluid replacement, and a Foley catheter.
  • Use an IV (like Ringer's lactate) to replace fluid loss (may use Parkland to estimate replacement volume).
  • Depending on the severity of the injury, other compounds may be needed (bicarbonate, mannitol, and diuretics).

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.