Trauma is a serious injury or shock to the body caused by a physical force such as violence or an accident. The injury may be complicated by psychiatric, behavioral, and social factors, causing the disability to be greater than just physical injuries. This condition almost always requires care from healthcare professionals.

Brain Trauma from Whiplash

Whiplash brain

© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.


Some causes of trauma include:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Falls
  • Drowning
  • Gunshots
  • Fires and burns
  • Stabbing
  • Other physical assault
  • Fire, flood, earthquake, or other natural disaster
  • Other shocking experience

Risk Factors

The following factor increases your chances of developing trauma.

  • Age: 1-44 years old


If you experience one or more of these symptoms, don’t assume it is caused by trauma. These symptoms may be caused by other, less serious health conditions. The symptoms associated with trauma vary, and depend on the type of injuries you have suffered. If you experience any one of them, see your physician.

  • Multiple injuries
  • Airway obstruction
  • Breathing problems
  • Bleeding
  • Heart failure
  • Lung failure
  • Vital organ damage
  • Central nervous system injury
  • Sepsis
  • Multiple organ failure

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


A professional team at the hospital will assess your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam.

Tests may include the following:

  • Blood pressure measurement
  • Ventilatory monitoring—breathing tests to determine whether breathing needs to be assisted by a ventilator or supplemental oxygen
  • Electrocardiogram—to monitor heart rate
  • Chest examination
  • Abdomen and pelvis examination
  • Examination of the extremities
  • Neurologic examination
  • Chest radiograph—to view the organs and structures within the test
  • Abdominal ultrasound—to view the organs and structures within the abdomen
  • CT scan—to view the organs and structures within the abdomen, pelvis, chest, and/or head
  • Spine x-ray—to determine if there is damage to the spine
  • Angiography—to identify arterial bleeding
  • Other tests, depending on the nature of the injuries
  • Assessment for psychological symptoms


Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment usually includes the following:

  • Resuscitation and/or stabilization—During the initial physical exam, doctors will perform necessary procedures and surgeries to restore normal vital signs, control blood loss, and restore organ function.
  • Further surgeries and/or treatments—Once you have been stabilized, you will likely need further surgeries and treatments. The surgeries and treatments you will undergo depend on the nature of your injuries.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy—If you have ongoing psychological symptoms in response to the trauma, psychotherapy may be a component of your rehabilitation. In cognitive-behavioral therapy, a psychotherapist will help a trauma victim discuss his/her feelings, return to normal activities, cope with anxiety, deal with anger, overcome sleep problems, and treat associated depression.


To help reduce your chances of trauma, take the following steps:

  • Avoid putting yourself at risk for an accident, violence, or other physical trauma.


American Academy of Family Physicians

American College of Emergency Physicians

Emergency Medical Services for Children


Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians

Trauma Management Group


Fact sheet: trauma, shock, burn, and injury: facts and figures. National Institute of General Medical Sciences website. Available at: . Accessed October 3, 2006.

Initial evaluation of the trauma patient. emedicine website. Available at: Accessed October 3, 2006.

Majou R, Farmer A. ABC of psychological medicine: trauma. British Medical Journal website. Available at: . Accessed October 16, 2006.

What is trauma? Hartford Hospital website. Available at: Accessed October 3, 2006.

Last reviewed February 2008 by David Horn, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Your Health and Happiness