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Home > Services > Surgery > What is Trauma?

What is Trauma?

Trauma is a serious injury or shock to the body. It's caused by a physical force, such as violence or an accident. The injury may be complicated by psychiatric, behavioral and social factors. 

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

The symptoms associated with trauma vary and depend on the type of injuries you have suffered. Symptoms may include:

  • 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 and perform a physical exam.

Tests may include the following:

  • Blood pressure measurement
  • Ventilatory monitoring (breathing tests) 
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG)
  • Chest exam
  • Abdomen and pelvis exam
  • Exam of the extremities
  • Neurologic exam
  • Chest radiograph
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • CT scan
  • Spine X-ray
  • Angiography
  • Assessment for psychological symptoms

Treatment for Trauma

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

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.