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Electrical Trauma Terminology

Arc-burn - When the voltage gradient in air exceeds 10-20 thousand volts over a distance of about a half-inch, the air breaks down into a hot ionized gas that is a very good electrical conductor. As such, electrical current can pass through the arc to the person and cause electrical injury. Lightning is an example of electrical arc. The arc is intensely hot and creates a shock wave that my produce significant barotrauma.

Electrical Shock - This term refers to the noxious experience of having painful electrical current passed through the body.

Electrical Burn - This pertains to heat damage of tissue caused by flow of electrical current through the tissue.

Electrocution - This means death caused by passage of electrical current through the body,

Electroporation - This term relates to the physical disruption of cell or other types of membranes caused by the induction of a large enough voltage across the membrane. For the outer membrane of cells, induction of a trans-membrane potential of more than 0.5 volts for a more than one millisecond will result in formation of structural defects in the membrane. If large enough, these defects typically do not spontaneously close.

Flash-electrical burn - This refers to the heat burn caused by being in the vicinity of an electrical arc that is short circuiting a high-power electrical source. Although intensely hot (i.e. 5,000 - 20,000°C), because of the limited heat capacity of air and because of the brief exposure, it only produces a superficial skin burn.

High-voltage Shock - This is common terminology used to indicate that the electrical shock voltage is higher than an arbitrarily selected voltage of 1,000 or 2,000 volts. This alone has very little medical significance because the extent of tissue damage relates more to the voltage difference imposed across the body, the anatomical region involved, the duration of current flow, the frequency of the current, the power capacity of the electrical power source and other parameters.

Lightning Injury - This term refers to body injury caused by lightning contact with the body. Lightning current tends concentrate on the skin surface but even a small percentage of the current passing into the body can disrupt neurological or muscle electrical function. Lightning injury can also be mediated by acoustic blast forces (thunder) and strong magnetic pulse induction in the body.

Low-voltage Shock - This is common terminology used to indicate that the electrical shock voltage is less than an arbitrarily selected voltage of 1,000 or 2,000 volts. This alone has very little medical significance because the extent of tissue damage relates more to the voltage difference imposed across the body, the anatomical region involved, the duration of current flow, the frequency of the current, the power capacity of the electrical power source and other parameters.

 


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