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Electrical Burns in Adults

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Sep 3, 2023.

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.

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. 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 how you were burned and examine you. You may need any of the following:

  • Blood and urine tests may show inflammation or damage to your muscles, heart, and other organs.
  • An EKG test records your heart rhythm and how fast your heart beats. It is used to check for heart damage.
  • A CT or MRI may show damage to your head or other body parts. You may be given contrast liquid to help the pictures show up better. Tell a healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell a healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • Scintigraphy is a procedure that may show dead tissue in your body and decide how much needs to be removed.

How are electrical burns treated?

  • Medicines:
    • Ointments may be placed on your burn area or be part of your bandage. These medicines prevent infection and help your burn heal.
    • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
    • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
    • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask your healthcare provider how to take this medicine safely. Some prescription pain medicines contain acetaminophen. Do not take other medicines that contain acetaminophen without talking to your healthcare provider. Too much acetaminophen may cause liver damage. Prescription pain medicine may cause constipation. Ask your healthcare provider how to prevent or treat constipation.
  • Procedures:
    • Debridement is used to remove damaged tissue from your body. This helps prevent infection, decrease inflammation, and improve your healing.
    • A skin graft or flap is when lost skin is replaced with healthy skin from another part of your body. 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.
    • Escharotomy is used to relieve pressure caused by swelling and improves blood flow for healing. An incision is made through the dead tissue into the fat layer below.
    • Fasciotomy is used to 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.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

How can electrical burns be managed?

  • Use bandages as directed. Bandages will cover your burn area to keep it moist and clean. Ask how often you should change your bandage. You may clean your burn with soap and water.
  • Go to physical therapy. Physical therapy will help prevent stiffness and muscle loss, and decrease pain.

How can electrical burns be prevented?

  • Place socket covers on unused plugs. Use safety cords, such as circuit breakers or ground fault interrupters.
  • Wear protective clothing if you work with electricity.
  • Check electrical equipment to make sure it is running properly.

Call, or have someone call, your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You have a seizure.
  • You suddenly have trouble seeing or hearing.
  • You have shortness of breath.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have red or reddish black urine.
  • You have a fast heartbeat.
  • You have problems walking or keeping your balance.

When should I call my doctor?

  • 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.

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.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.