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Modern concepts of treatment and prevention of lightning injuries.

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Plastic Surgery and Biomedical Engineering, University of Virginia Health System,Charlottesville, Virginia, USA.


Lightning is the second most common cause of weather-related death in the United States. Lightning is a natural atmospheric discharge that occurs between regions of net positive and net negative electric charges. There are several types of lightning, including streak lightning, sheet lightning, ribbon lightning, bead lightning, and ball lightning. Lightning causes injury through five basic mechanisms: direct strike, flash discharge (splash), contact, ground current (step voltage), and blunt trauma. While persons struck by lightning show evidence of multisystem derangement, the most dramatic effects involve the cardiovascular and central nervous systems. Cardiopulmonary arrest is the most common cause of death in lightning victims. Immediate resuscitation of people struck by lightning greatly affects the prognosis. Electrocardiographic changes observed following lightning accidents are probably from primary electric injury or burns of the myocardium without coronary artery occlusion. Lightning induces vasomotor spasm from direct sympathetic stimulation resulting in severe loss of pulses in the extremities. This vasoconstriction may be associated with transient paralysis. Damage to the central nervous system accounts for the second most debilitating group of injuries. Central nervous system injuries from lightning include amnesia and confusion, immediate loss of consciousness, weakness, intracranial injuries, and even brief aphasia. Other organ systems injured by lightning include the eye, ear, gastrointestinal system, skin, and musculoskeletal system. The best treatment of lightning injuries is prevention. The Lightning Safety Guidelines devised by the Lightning Safety Group should be instituted in the United States and other nations to prevent these devastating injuries.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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