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.

Brain Trauma from Whiplash

Whiplash brain
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Causes    TOP

Some causes of trauma include:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Falls
  • Near-drowning
  • Gunshots
  • Fires and burns
  • Stabbing
  • Other physical assault
  • Fire, flood, earthquake, lightening, or other natural disaster
  • Contact sports
  • Electrical shock
  • Animal attacks
  • Explosions
  • Plane crashes

Risk Factors    TOP

Some factors increase your chances of developing trauma. You are at increased risk if you are aged 1-44 years.

Symptoms    TOP

The symptoms associated with trauma vary and depend on the type of injuries you have suffered. Some symptoms may include:

  • Breathing problems
  • Bleeding
  • Loss of feeling and/or muscle strength

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 such as distress, memories, avoidance, and numbing in the months after trauma
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic symptoms and/or disorder
  • Avoidance and public anxiety

Diagnosis    TOP

A medical team will assess your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. It may include a chest exam, abdomen and pelvis exam, exam of extremities, and a neurologic exam. A psychological exam and/or suicide assessment may also be done.

Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with blood tests.

Your vital signs may be tested. This can be done with:

Imaging tests can be used to evaluate the injured area. These may include:

Treatment    TOP

Treatment usually includes the following:

  • Resuscitation and/or stabilization to normalize vital signs, control blood loss, and restore organ function
  • Further surgeries and/or treatments
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to address ongoing psychological symptoms from the trauma

Prevention    TOP

To help reduce your chance of trauma:

  • 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.
  • Do not use a cell phone while driving.
  • Keep poisons, medication, 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 such as 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.


American Academy of Family Physicians
National Safety Council


Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians
Trauma Association of Canada


Majou R, Farmer A. ABC of psychological medicine: trauma. BMJ. 2002;325:426.
Trauma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
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Accessed September 15, 2014. Accessed November 4, 2014.
Trauma fact sheet. National Institute of General Medical Sciences website. Available at:
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Updated November 2012. Accessed November 4, 2014.
Last reviewed December 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 12/20/2014

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