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Electrical Burns in Adults


What are electrical burns?

Electrical burns are injuries that are caused by an electric current. The electric current can pass through your body and damage tissues or organs. An electric current may also jump from an electrical source to you and burn your body.

What causes electrical burns?

Electrical burns are caused by touching an electrical current that comes from a source of electricity. Sources of electricity include batteries, household appliances, electrical outlets, and power lines. Lightning can also cause electrical burns. Lightning can strike you directly or reach you by traveling through plumbing, wires, or the ground.

What are the signs and symptoms of electrical burns in adults?

Your signs and symptoms will depend on where and how badly you are burned. Symptoms may occur right away or appear after a few months. You may have any of the following:

  • Burns or other wounds on your skin
  • Headache, dizziness, confusion, or memory loss
  • Fast or abnormal heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness, stiffness, or muscle pain
  • Problems walking or keeping your balance
  • Red or reddish black urine
  • Pain throughout your body
  • Seizures

How are electrical burns diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and when they began. He will ask how you were burned and examine you. He may ask if you have any other medical conditions or test your memory. He may ask you to do certain movements to test your joints. You may be given contrast liquid before some of the following tests to help the pictures show up better. Tell healthcare providers if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid.

  • Blood and urine tests: You may need blood or urine tests to check for damage to your muscles, heart, and other organs.
  • ECG: This is also called an EKG. An ECG is done to check for damage or problems in your heart. A short period of electrical activity in your heart is recorded.
  • CT scan: This test is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray uses a computer to take pictures of your brain. Your healthcare provider may do this test to check for signs of brain injury.
  • MRI: This scan uses powerful magnets and a computer to take pictures of your head or other body parts. An MRI may be used to look at your brain, muscles, joints, bones, or blood vessels. Do not enter the MRI room with any metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell healthcare providers if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • Scintigraphy: Scintigraphy helps your healthcare provider find dead tissue in your body and decide how much needs to be removed.

How are electrical burns treated?

  • Medicines:
    • Ointments: These medicines prevent infection and help your burn heal. The ointment may be placed on your skin or may be part of your bandage.
    • Pain medicine: You may be given a prescription medicine to decrease severe pain if other pain medicines do not work. Take the medicine as directed. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take your medicine.
    • Td vaccine is a booster shot used to help prevent tetanus and diphtheria. The Td booster may be given to adolescents and adults every 10 years or for certain wounds and injuries.
  • Surgery:
    • Debridement: Healthcare providers remove damaged tissue from your body to prevent infection, decrease inflammation, and improve your healing.
    • Skin grafts and flaps: Healthcare providers cover or replace lost skin with healthy skin. A graft can help close your wounds, prevent infection, and decrease scarring. Skin flap surgery is done to fix large wounds that cannot be covered by skin grafting. A skin flap is skin and tissue near the wound that is used to cover the wound area. Skin flaps may improve the appearance of your skin.
    • Escharotomy: Healthcare providers make an incision through the dead tissue into the fat layer below. This surgery helps relieve pressure caused by swelling and improves blood flow.
    • Fasciotomy: Healthcare providers release pressure that is caused by swollen muscles from the burn. You may be less likely to have more damage to your nerves, tissue, or organs.
  • Physical care:
    • Wound care: Your burn will be covered with a bandage to keep it moist and clean. You may clean your burn with soap and water. Ask how often you should change your bandage.
    • Physical therapy: Your muscles and joints may not work well after an electrical burn. You may need to see a physical therapist to teach you exercises that will improve movement and decrease pain. Physical therapy can also help improve strength and decrease your risk for loss of function.

What are the risks of electrical burns?

Bandage changes may be painful. Your scars may itch or become thick and raised. Surgery to remove dead tissue may cause infection and put you at risk of bleeding. If you had a skin graft, your skin may not heal completely, or it may become infected. Without treatment, your burn may become infected. You may also have increased pain.

How can electrical burns be prevented?

  • If you work with electricity, wear clothing that protects you from electric currents.
  • Always make sure that electrical equipment is running properly.
  • Unplug electrical machines when they are not in use and before you try to fix them.
  • Use safety cords, such as circuit breakers or ground fault interrupters. Place socket covers on unused plugs.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You are dizzy or weak.
  • You have stiff joints or muscle pain.
  • You are confused or have memory loss.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You have a fast heartbeat.
  • You have a seizure.
  • You have problems walking or keeping your balance.
  • You suddenly have trouble seeing or hearing.
  • You have red or reddish black urine.
  • You have shortness of breath.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2020 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

Further information

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