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 almost always requires care from healthcare professionals.

Brain Trauma from Whiplash

Whiplash brain
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

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

The following factor increases your chances of developing trauma:

  • Age: 1-44 years old

Symptoms

If you experience one or more of these symptoms, don’t 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 one of them, see your physician.

  • 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 (ie, 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 —to monitor heart rate
  • Chest examination
  • Abdomen and pelvis examination
  • Examination of the extremities
  • Neurologic examination
  • 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—normal vital signs, control blood loss, and restore organ function will be restored first
  • Further surgeries and/or treatments—after you have been stabilized, you will likely need further surgeries and treatments
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy—to address ongoing psychological symptoms from the trauma; a psychotherapist will help you discuss your feelings, return to normal activities, cope with anxiety, deal with anger, overcome sleep problems, and treat associated depression

Prevention

To help reduce your chances of trauma, the 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 medications can be dangerous as well.
  • Don't 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. (eg, 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.