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Scand J Surg. 2005;94(4):279-85.

Blast trauma: the fourth weapon of mass destruction.

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  • 1Orthopaedic Trauma Service, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Brown University, Rhode Island Hospital, Medical Office Center, Providence 02905, USA.


Injury from blast is becoming more common in the non-military population. This is primarily a result of an increase in politically motivated bombings within the civilian sector. Explosions unrelated to terrorism may also occur in the industrial setting. Civilian physicians and surgeons need to have an understanding of the pathomechanics and physiology of blast injury and to recognize the hallmarks of severity in order to increase survivorship. Because victims may be transported rapidly to the hospital, occult injury to gas and fluid containing organs (particularly the ears, bowel and lungs) may go unrecognized. Information surrounding the physical environment of the explosion (whether inside or outside, underwater, associated building collapse, etc) will prove useful. Most of the immediate deaths are caused by primary blast injury from the primary blast wave, but secondary blast injury from flying debris can also be lethal and involve a much wider radius. Liberal use of X-ray examination in areas of skin punctures will help to identify a need for exploration and/or foreign body removal. Biologic serum markers may have a role in identifying victims of primary blast injury and assist in monitoring their clinical progress. Tertiary blast injury results from the airborne propulsion of the victim by the shockwave and is a source of additional blunt head and torso trauma as well as fractures. Miscellaneous (quaternary) blast injury include thermal or dust inhalation exposure as well as crush and compartment syndromes from building collapse. Any explosion has the potential to be associated with nuclear, biologic or chemical contaminants, and this should remain a consideration for healthcare givers until proven otherwise.

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