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Home > Services > Surgery > What is Trauma?

What is Trauma?

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

Brain Trauma from Whiplash

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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

Trauma Symptoms

If you experience one or more of these symptoms, do not 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 of them, see your doctor.

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

Diagnosing Trauma

A medical team will assess your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

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 (EKG)—to monitor heart rate
  • Chest exam
  • Abdomen and pelvis exam
  • Exam of the extremities
  • Neurologic exam
  • 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

Treatment for Trauma

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

  • Resuscitation and/or stabilization—normalize vital signs, control blood loss and restore organ function will be restored first
  • Further surgeries and/or treatments—may need further surgeries and treatments
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy—to address ongoing psychological symptoms from the trauma

To help with your recovery, be sure to follow your doctor's instructions.

Preventing Trauma

To help reduce your chances of trauma, see our safety and prevention tips.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.