PMID: 9365421Nov 20, 1997Paper

Injury by electrical forces: pathophysiology, manifestations, and therapy

Current Problems in Surgery
Raphael C Lee


The pathogenesis and pathophysiologic features of electrical injury are more complex than once thought. The relative contributions of thermal and pure electrical damage depend on the duration of electric current passage, the orientation of the cells in the current path, their location, and other factors. If the contact time is brief, nonthermal mechanisms of cell damage will be most important and the damage is relatively restricted to the cell membrane. When contact time is much longer, however, heat damage predominates and the whole cell is affected directly. These parameters also determine the anatomic tissue distribution of injury. Damage by Joule heating is not known to be dependent on cell size, whereas larger cells are more vulnerable to membrane breakdown by electroporation. Cells do survive transient plasma membrane rupture under appropriate circumstances or if therapy is instituted quickly. If membrane permeabilization is the primary cellular pathologic condition, then injured tissue may be salvageable and the challenge for the future is to identify a technique to reseal the damaged membranes promptly. Present standards of care for electrical injury require a fully staffed and well-equipped intensive care unit, availab...Continue Reading


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