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Eplasty. 2009 Oct 12;9:e44.

Conduction of electrical current to and through the human body: a review.

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Bioacoustics Research Lab & Department of Surgery, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA.



The objective of this article is to explain ways in which electric current is conducted to and through the human body and how this influences the nature of injuries.


This multidisciplinary topic is explained by first reviewing electrical and pathophysiological principles. There are discussions of how electric current is conducted through the body via air, water, earth, and man-made conductive materials. There are also discussions of skin resistance (impedance), internal body resistance, current path through the body, the let-go phenomenon, skin breakdown, electrical stimulation of skeletal muscles and nerves, cardiac dysrhythmias and arrest, and electric shock drowning. After the review of basic principles, a number of clinically relevant examples of accident mechanisms and their medical effects are discussed. Topics related to high-voltage burns include ground faults, ground potential gradient, step and touch potentials, arcs, and lightning.


The practicing physician will have a better understanding of electrical mechanisms of injury and their expected clinical effects.


There are a variety of types of electrical contact, each with important characteristics. Understanding how electric current reaches and travels through the body can help the clinician understand how and why specific accidents occur and what medical and surgical problems may be expected.


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