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For other uses, see Trauma.

Classification and external resources
10 9 DiseasesDB MedlinePlus eMedicine MeSH D014947

Trauma (from Greek τραῦμα, "wound"[1]) also known as "injury",[2] is a physiological wound caused by an external source.[3][4] It can also be described as "a physical wound or injury, such as a fracture or blow".[3][5] Unintentional and intentional injuries were the fifth and seventh leading causes, accounting for 6.23% and 2.84% of deaths worldwide, respectively in the 2002 World Health Organization estimates of causes of death by rate.

There are many causes of injury that can affect a person in different ways, both anatomically and physiologically. Depending on the severity of injury, quick management and transport to an appropriate facility may be necessary to prevent loss of life or limb. Various classification scales exist for use with trauma to determine the severity of injuries, which is used to determine the resources used and for statistical collection. The initial assessment is critical in determining the extent of injuries and what will be needed to manage an injury. The assessment involves a physical evaluation and can also include the use of imaging tools to accurately determine a type of injury and to formulate a course of treatment.


Injuries are generally classified by either severity or by the location of damage.[6] Trauma may also be classified by demographic group, such as age or gender.[7] It may also be classified by the type of force applied to the body, such as blunt trauma or penetrating trauma. Clinically, injury is classified using the Barell matrix, which is based on ICD-9-CM data for the purposes of research collection and analysis. The purpose of the matrix is to internationally standardize the classification of trauma.[8] Major trauma is sometimes classified by body area; injuries affecting 40% are polytrauma, 30% head injuries, 20% chest trauma, 10%, abdominal trauma and 2%, extremity trauma[7][9]

Various scales exist to provide a quantifiable metric to measure the severity of injuries. The value can be used for triaging a patient or for statistical analysis. Injury scales measure damage to anatomical parts, physiological values (blood pressure etc.), comorbidities or a combination of those. The abbreviated injury scale and the Glasgow coma scale are commonly used to quantify injuries for the purpose of triaging and allow a system to monitor or "trend" a patient's condition in a clinical setting.[10] The data can also be used in epidemiological investigations and for research purposes.[11]


Injuries are statistically classified as either intentional example suicide, self-harm, violence or war accidental. The leading causes of traumatic death are blunt trauma, motor vehicle collisions and falls.[12] Subsets of blunt trauma, are the number one and two causes of traumatic death.[13]

Intentional injury is a common cause of traumas.[14] Penetrating trauma is caused when a foreign body such as a bullet or a knife enters the body tissue, creating an open wound. In the United States, most deaths caused by penetrating trauma occur in urban areas and 80% of these deaths are caused by firearms.[15] Blast injury is a complex cause of trauma because it commonly includes both blunt and penetrating trauma, and may also be accompanied by a burn injury. Trauma may also be associated with a particular activity, such as an occupational or sports injury.


The body responds to traumatic injury both systemically and at the injury site.[16] This response attempts to protect vital organs such as the liver, to allow further cell duplication and to heal the damage.[17] The healing time of an injury depends on various factors including sex, age, and the severity of injury.[18]

The symptoms of injury can manifest in many different ways including:[19]

Various organ systems respond to injury to restore homeostasis by maintaining perfusion to the heart and brain.[20] Inflammation after injury occurs to protect against further damage and starts the healing process. Prolonged inflammation can cause multiple organ dysfunction syndrome or systemic inflammatory response syndrome.[21] Immediately after injury, the body increases production of glucose through gluconeogenesis and its consumption of fat via lipolysis. Next, the body tries to replenish its energy stores of glucose and protein via anabolism. In this state the body will temporarily increase its maximum expenditure for the purpose of healing injured cells.[18][22]


Physical examination

Primary physical examination is undertaken to identify any life-threatening problems, after which the secondary examination is carried out. This may occur during transportation or upon arrival at the hospital. The secondary examination consists of a systematic assessment of the abdominal, pelvic and thoratic areas, a complete inspection of the body surface to find all injuries, and a neurological examination. Injuries which may manifest themselves later may be missed during the initial assessment, such as when a patient is brought into a hospital's emergency department.[23]


Persons with major trauma commonly have chest and pelvic X-rays taken,[9] and depending on the mechanism of injury and presentation, are subject to a Focused assessment with sonography for trauma (FAST) exam to check for internal bleeding. For those with relatively stable blood pressure, heart rate, and sufficient oxygenation, CT scans are considered effective.[9][24] Full-body CT scans, known as pan-scans, improve the survival rate of those who have suffered major trauma.[25] These scans use intravenous injections for the radiocontrast agent, but not oral administration.[26] There are concerns of radiation exposure from CT scans on the kidneys, but routine CT scans on the kidneys have shown no associated harm.[24]

In the U.S., CT or MRI scans are performed on 15% of trauma victims in emergency rooms.[27] Where blood pressure is low or the heart rate is increased from bleeding in the abdomen surgery bypassing a CT scan is recommended.[28]

Surgical techniques

Surgical techniques, using a tube or catheter to drain fluid from the peritoneum, chest, or the pericardium around the heart are often used in cases of severe blunt trauma to the chest or abdomen when a person is experiencing early signs of shock. In those with low blood-pressure, likely because of bleeding in the abdominal cavity, cutting through the abdominal wall surgically is indicated.[9]


Main article: Injury prevention

By identifying risk factors present within a community and creating solutions to decrease the incidence of injury, trauma referral systems can help to enhance the overall health of a population.[29] Commonly, injury prevention strategies are used to prevent injuries in children, who are a high risk population.[30] Generally, injury prevention strategies involve educating the general public about specific risk factors and developing strategies to avoid or reduce injuries.[31] Legislation intended to prevent injury typically involves seatbelts, child car seats, helmets, alcohol control, and increased enforcement.[32]

The use of drugs such as alcohol or cocaine increases the risk of trauma by increasing the likelihood of traffic collisions, violence and abuse occurring.[9] Other drugs such as benzodiazepines increase the risk of trauma in elderly people.[9]

The care of acutely injured people in a public health system involved bystanders, community members, health care professionals, and health care systems. It encompasses pre-hospital trauma assessment and care by emergency medical services personnel, emergency department assessment, treatment, and stabilization, and in-hospital care among all age groups.[33] An established trauma system network is also an important component of community disaster preparedness, facilitating the care of people who have been involved in disasters that cause large numbers of casualties, such as earthquakes.[29]


Further information: Trauma center

The pre-hospital use of stabilization techniques improves the chances of a person surviving the journey to the nearest trauma-equipped hospital. A primary survey consisting of checking and treating airway, breathing, and circulation, and an assessment on the level of consciousness may manifest themselves later is then performed.[23] It is important to quickly control severe bleeding with pressure or the use of an adjunct.[34] Depending on the severity and mechanism of injury, unnecessary movement of the spine is minimized by securing the neck with a cervical collar and the back with a long spine board with head supports. This can be accomplished with other medical transport devices such as a  Kendrick extrication device, before moving the person.[35] 

Rapid transportation of severely injured patients improves the outcome in trauma.[9][23] Helicopter EMS transport reduces mortality compared to ground-based transport in adult trauma patients.[36] Before arrival at the hospital, the availability of advanced life support does not greatly improve the outcome for major trauma when compared to the administration of basic life support.[37][38] Evidence is inconclusive in determining support for prehospital intravenous fluid resuscitation while some evidence has found it may be harmful.[39]

People with trauma may require specialized care, including surgery and blood transfusion; these may be successful if they occur as quickly as possible during the golden period.[40] Hospitals with designated trauma centers have improved outcomes when compared to hospitals without them,[9] and outcomes can improve when persons who have experienced trauma are transferred directly to a trauma center.[41] In certain traumas, such as maxillofacial trauma, it can be beneficial to have a highly trained health care provider available to maintain airway, breathing, and circulation.[42] Even if pre-hospital care is provided by proper medical professionals, the primary survey will be evaluated again upon arrival to a hospital.[34]

Intravenous fluids

Traditionally, high volume intravenous fluids were given in people who cannot provide adequate perfusion to tissues (hemodynamically unstable) due to trauma.[43] This is still appropriate in cases with isolated extremity trauma, thermal trauma, or head injuries.[44] The current evidence supports limiting the use of fluids for penetrating thorax and abdominal injuries, allowing mild hypotension to persist.[7][44] Targets include a mean arterial pressure of 60 mmHg, a systolic blood pressure of 70–90 mmHg,[43][45] or until adequate mentation and peripheral pulses are observed.[43]

As no intravenous fluids used for initial resuscitation have been shown to be superior, warmed Lactated Ringer's solution, continues to be the solution of choice for the treatment of trauma patients.[43] If blood products are needed, a greater relative use of fresh frozen plasma and platelets to packed red blood cells has been found to improve survival and lower overall blood product use;[46] a ratio of 1:1:1 is recommended.[45] The success of platelets has been attributed to the fact that they can prevent coagulopathy from developing.[47] Cell salvage and autotransfusion can also be used.[43]

Blood substitutes such as hemoglobin-based oxygen carriers are in development, however as of 2013 there are none available for commercial use in North America or Europe.[43][48][49] These products are only available for general use in South Africa and Russia.[48]


Tranexamic acid decreases the mortality rate in people who are bleeding due to trauma.[50][51] For severe bleeding, for example from bleeding disorders, recombinant factor VIIa protein that assists blood clotting be appropriate.[9][44] While it decreases blood use it does not appear to decrease the mortality rate.[52] In those without previous factor VII deficiency its use is not recommended outside of trial situations.[53] Other medications may be used in conjunction with other procedures to stabilize a person who sustained a significant injury.[7]


The decision whether to perform surgery is determined by the extent of the damage and the anatomical location of the injury. Bleeding must be controlled before definitive repair can occur.[54] Damage control surgery is used to manage severe trauma in which there is a cycle of metabolic acidosis, hypothermia, and hypotension.[9] It involves performing the least number of procedures to save life and limb; less critical procedures are left until the victim is more stable.[9]


Trauma deaths occur in immediate, early, or late stages. Immediate deaths are usually due to apnea, severe brain or high spinal cord injury, or rupture of the heart or of large blood vessels. Early deaths occur within minutes to hours and are often due to hemorrhages in the brain's outer meningeal layer, torn arteries, blood around the lungs, air around the lungs, ruptured spleen, liver laceration, or pelvic fracture. Immediate access to care can be crucial to prevent death in persons experiencing major trauma. Late deaths occurs days or weeks after the injury[23] and are often related to infection.[55] Prognosis is better in countries with a dedicated trauma system where injured persons have quick and effective access to proper treatment facilities.[9]

Long-term prognosis is frequently complicated by pain; over half of trauma patients have moderate to severe pain one year after injury.[56] Many also experience a reduced quality of life years after an injury,[57] with 20% of victims sustaining some form of disability.[58] Physical trauma can lead to development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).[59] One study has found no correlation between the severity of trauma and the development of PTSD.[60]


Trauma is the sixth leading cause of death worldwide, resulting in five million or 10% of all deaths annually.[62][63] It is the fifth leading cause of significant disability.[62] About half of trauma deaths are in people aged between15 and 45 years and is the leading cause of death in this age group.[63] Injury affects more males; 68% of injuries occur in males[64] and death from trauma is twice as common in males as it is in females.[63] Teenagers and young adults are more likely to need hospitalization from injuries than other age groups.[65] While elderly persons are less likely to be injured, they are more likely to die from injuries sustained.[65] The primary causes of traumatic death are central nervous system injuries and substantial blood loss.[62]


Most research on trauma occurs during war and military conflicts.[66] Some research is being done on patients who were admitted into an intensive care unit or trauma center and received a trauma diagnosis that caused a negative change in their health-related quality of life, with a potential to create anxiety and symptoms of depression.[67] New preserved blood products are also being researched for use in pre-hospital care; it is impractical to use the currently available blood products in a timely fashion in remote, rural settings or in theaters of war.[68]

Society and culture


The financial cost of trauma includes both the amount of money spent on treatment and the loss of potential economic gain through absence from work. The average financial cost for the treatment of traumatic injury in the United States is around US$334,000 per person, making it costlier than the treatment of cancer and cardiovascular diseases.[69] One reason for the high cost of treatment is the increased possibility of complications, which leads to the need for more interventions.[70] Maintaining a trauma center is costly because they are open continuously and are always ready to receive patients.[71] In 2009 around US$693.5 billion was lost due to traumatic injury in the United States.[72]

Low and middle income countries

Citizens of low and middle income countries (LMICs) often have higher mortality rates from injury; these countries accounted for 89% of all deaths from injury worldwide.[64] Many of these countries do not have access to sufficient surgical care and many do not have a trauma system in place. In addition, most LMICs do not have a pre-hospital care system to initially treat and transport injured persons to hospital quickly, leading to most casualties being transported by private vehicles. Hospitals lack the appropriate equipment, organizational resources or trained staff.[73][74] By 2020, the amount of trauma related deaths is expected to decline in high-income countries while in low to middle-income countries it is expected to increase.[75]

Special populations


Main article: Pediatric trauma
Cause Number of deaths
Traffic collision

260,000 per year


175,000 per year


96,000 per year


47,000 per year


45,000 per year

Due to anatomical and physiological differences, injuries in children need to be approached differently to those in adults.[76] Accidents are the leading cause of death in children between 1 and 14 years old.[58] In the United States approximatively sixteen million children go to an emergency department due to some form of injury every year.[58] Boys are more frequently injured than girls by a ratio of 2:1.[58] The world's five commonest unintentional injuries in children are as follows:[77]

Weight estimation is an important part of managing trauma in children because the accurate dosing of medicine may be critical for resuscitative efforts.[78] A number of methods to estimate weight, including the Broselow tape, Leffler formula and Theron formula exist.[79]


Trauma occurs in about 5% of all pregnancies,[80] and is the leading cause of maternal death. Pregnant women may additionally experience placental abruption, pre-term labor, and uterine rupture.[80] There are diagnostic issues during pregnancy; ionizing radiation has been shown to cause birth defects,[7] although the doses used for typical exams are generally considered safe.[80] Due to normal physiological changes that occur during pregnancy, shock can be more difficult to diagnose.[7][81] Where the woman is more than 23 weeks pregnant, it is recommended that the fetus is monitored for at least four hours by cardiotocography.[80]

A number of treatments beyond typical trauma care may be needed when the patient is pregnant.Because the weight of the uterus on the inferior vena cava can decease blood return to the heart, it is important to lay women in late pregnancy on the left side or to tilt the spine board.[80] Rho(D) immune globulin in those who are rh negative, corticosteroids in those who are 24 to 34 weeks who may need delivery, or a caesarian section in the event of cardiac arrest are also recommended.[80]



Further reading

External links

  • International Trauma Conferences (registered trauma charity providing trauma education for medical professionals worldwide)
  • (trauma resources for medical professionals)
  • Emergency Medicine Research and Perspectives (emergency medicine procedure videos)
  • American Trauma Society
  • Scandinavian Journal of Trauma, Resuscitation and Emergency Medicine
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