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Electric Shock: Symptoms, Diagnosis And Treatment

It is estimated that in India, over 2,000 deaths occur due to electrocution every year. And in the United States, about 1,000 people die each year due to electric shock which is far more deaths caused by lightning.

Electric shock occurs when you are exposed to man-made electrical items, causing the electric current to pass through the body which causes burns both in internal and external body tissues and damages the organs [1] .

Electrical outlets, electric machinery, power lines, lightning, household appliances are all responsible for causing electric shock [2] .

The lethality of the electric shock depends on how high the voltage is, the type of current, how the current travelled through the body, and overall health of the person.

Low voltage electricity (less than 500 volts) doesn't cause much injury, however high voltage electricity (greater than 500 volts) has the potential to cause serious body damage.

In fact, children are more prone to low voltage electricity (110-220 volts) when they bite or chew an electrical cord, causing loss of consciousness [3] . Around 20% of all electrical injuries occur in children, the highest prevalence is in toddlers and adolescents.

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Symptoms Of Electric Shock

  • Muscle spasms
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Headache
  • Breathing problems
  • Burns
  • Problems with vision or hearing
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Seizures

Risk Factors Of Electric Shock [4]

  • Fatal arrhythmia
  • Person with a heart disease
  • Skin burns and lesions

When To See A Doctor

Seek a doctor's help immediately if you experience severe burns, confusion, difficulty in breathing, cardiac arrest, arrhythmia, seizures, and loss of consciousness.

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Diagnosis Of Electric Shock

The doctor will conduct various tests depending on the history and physical examination of the body. These tests include the following:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) - The test shows how your heart is functioning by measuring the electrical activity of the heart [5] .
  • X-ray - This test is done to look for fractures or dislocations.
  • CT scan - This test provides more detailed information of the body to check whether the soft tissues, blood vessels and bones in the body have been damaged or not [6] .

Treatment Of Electric Shock

Depending on the injury, electric shock treatments include the following:

Medical treatment [7]

  • Minor burns can be treated with topical antibiotic creams and dressings.
  • Severe burns may need surgery to clear up the wounds.
  • If the bones are broken, it may require casting or surgery to stabilize the bones.
  • Severe burns on the arms, legs or hands may require surgery to amputate your legs or arms.
  • Tetanus shots are given depending on the source of the shock.

First-aid treatment [8]

  • Turn off the source of electricity and move the person away from it using a dry, non-conducting object made of wood or cardboard.
  • Keep the injured person warm by covering him or her with a blanket.
  • Do not give anything to eat or drink.
  • Loosen the clothing.
  • If the person shows no signs of breathing, coughing or movement, start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) until emergency help arrives.
  • Cover burns with a sterile gauze bandage.

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Prevention Of Electric Shock

  • Keep children away from electrical cords.
  • Limit the usage of extension cords.
  • Use outlet covers for open electrical outlets.
  • Before working on an electrical system, check if the power is off.
  • Do not stand in water when working with electricity.

Getting affected by an electric shock can be life-threatening, so it's important to get help as soon as possible. Even if the electric shock is minor or severe, it is best to rush to the doctor immediately.

View Article References
  1. [1] Oliver, T., & Bolam, R. A. (1898). CAUSE of DEATH by ELECTRIC SHOCK.British medical journal,1(1933), 132-135.
  2. [2] Fish, R. M., & Geddes, L. A. (2009). Conduction of electrical current to and through the human body: a review.Eplasty,9.
  3. [3] Trivedi, T. K., Liu, C., Antonio, A., Wheaton, N., Kreger, V., Yap, A., … Elmore, J. G. (2019). Injuries Associated With Standing Electric Scooter Use.JAMA network open,2(1), e187381.
  4. [4] Bailey, B., Forget, S., & Gaudreault, P. (2001). Prevalence of potential risk factors in victims of electrocution.Forensic science international,123(1), 58-62.
  5. [5] Searle, J., Slagman, A., Maaß, W., & Möckel, M. (2013). Cardiac monitoring in patients with electrical injuries. An analysis of 268 patients at the Charité Hospital.Deutsches Arzteblatt international,110(50), 847-853.
  6. [6] Sofić, A., Bešlić, N., Efendić, A., Čarovac, A., Šabanović, J., Jahić, E., ... & Kupusović, J. (2016). US and CT of the Liver after Electric Shock.Case reports in radiology,2016.
  7. [7] Ungureanu M. (2014). Electrocutions--treatment strategy (case presentation).Journal of medicine and life,7(4), 623-626.
  8. [8] Morley, R., & Carter, A. O. (1972). First aid treatment of electric shock.Archives of Environmental Health: An International Journal,25(4), 276-285.

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