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Definition | Causes | Risk Factors | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment | Prevention

Definition

Trauma is a serious injury or shock to the body. It is caused by a physical force, such as violence or an accident. The injury may be complicated by psychiatric, behavioral, and social factors. This can cause the disability to be greater than just physical injuries. This condition usually requires care from healthcare professionals.

Brain Trauma from Whiplash

Whiplash brain
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Causes

Some causes of trauma include:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Falls
  • Drowning
  • Gunshots
  • Fires and burns
  • Stabbing
  • Other physical assault
  • Fire, flood, earthquake, or other natural disaster
  • Other shocking experience

Risk Factors

Some factors increase your chances of developing trauma. You are at increased risk if you are aged 1-44 years.

Symptoms

If you experience one or more of these symptoms, do not assume it is caused by trauma. These symptoms may be caused by other, less serious health conditions. The symptoms associated with trauma vary and depend on the type of injuries you have suffered. If you experience any of them, see your doctor.

  • Multiple injuries
  • Airway obstruction
  • Breathing problems
  • Bleeding
  • Heart failure
  • Lung failure
  • Vital organ damage
  • Central nervous system injury
  • Sepsis
  • Multiple organ failure

In addition, the following psychological effects may occur in response to trauma:

  • Anxiety, numbness, dissociation and/or inappropriate calmness
  • Anger and frustration
  • Acute stress disorder (such as distress, memories, avoidance, and numbing in the months after trauma)
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic symptoms and/or disorder
  • Avoidance and public anxiety

Diagnosis

A medical team will assess your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Tests may include the following:

  • Blood pressure measurement
  • Ventilatory monitoring—breathing tests to determine whether breathing needs to be assisted by a ventilator or supplemental oxygen
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG)—to monitor heart rate
  • Chest exam
  • Abdomen and pelvis exam
  • Exam of the extremities
  • Neurologic exam
  • Chest radiograph—to view the organs and structures within the test
  • Abdominal ultrasound—to view the organs and structures within the abdomen
  • CT scan—to view the organs and structures within the abdomen, pelvis, chest, and/or head
  • Spine x-ray—to determine if there is damage to the spine
  • Angiography—to identify arterial bleeding
  • Other tests, depending on the nature of the injuries
  • Assessment for psychological symptoms

Treatment

Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Treatment usually includes the following:

  • Resuscitation and/or stabilization—normalize vital signs, control blood loss, and restore organ function will be restored first
  • Further surgeries and/or treatments—may need further surgeries and treatments
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy—to address ongoing psychological symptoms from the trauma

To help with your recovery, be sure to follow your doctor's instructions.

Prevention

To help reduce your chances of trauma, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Safety Council recommend that you take the following steps:

  • Always use seat belts.
  • Never drive or operate any equipment while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Certain medicines can be dangerous as well.
  • Do not use a cell phone while driving.
  • Keep poisons, medicine, and cleaning supplies locked up. Keep them away from small children.
  • Teach children to swim. Teach all family members about water safety.
  • Develop a fire safety plan.
  • Make sure all alarm and fire equipment is up to date (such as smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, and fire extinguishers).
  • If you have firearms in the house, make sure they are kept unloaded. Keep them in a locked location.
  • Wear helmets while biking.
  • Wear the right safety equipment for all sports and recreation activities.
  • Wear appropriate protective gear when using power tools.
  • Help prevent falls in the home. Install night-lights, grab bars, and hand rails.
  • Avoid putting yourself at risk for an accident, violence, or other physical trauma.
RESOURCES:

American Academy of Family Physicians

http://familydoctor.org

Centers for Disease Control

http://www.cdc.gov

National Safety Council

http://www.nsc.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians

http://www.caep.ca

Trauma Management Group

http://www.trauma.ca

References:

Behrman RE, et al. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2007.

Fact sheet: trauma, shock, burn, and injury: facts and figures. National Institute of General Medical Sciences website. Available at: http://publications.nigms.nih.gov/factsheets/trauma_burn_facts.html. Accessed October 3, 2006.

Goldman L, Ausiello D., eds. Cecil Textbook of Internal Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2008.

Majou R, Farmer A. ABC of psychological medicine: trauma. British Medical Journal website. Available at: http://www.bmj.com/content/325/7361/426.full. Accessed October 16, 2006.

Marx, John A., et al. Rosen's Emergency Medicine. 7th ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby, Inc., 2009.

What is trauma? Hartford Hospital website. Available at: http://www.harthosp.org/trauma/trauma.html. Accessed October 3, 2006.

Last reviewed October 2012 by Peter Lucas, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


 
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