Immediate and early trauma deaths are determined by primary brain injuries, or significant blood loss (haemorrhagic shock), while late mortality is caused by secondary brain injuries and host defence failure. First hits (hypoxia, hypotension, organ and soft tissue injuries, fractures), as well as second hits (e.g. ischaemia/reperfusion injuries, compartment syndromes, operative interventions, infections), induce a host defence response. This is characterized by local and systemic release of pro-inflammatory cytokines, arachidonic acid metabolites, proteins of the contact phase and coagulation systems, complement factors and acute phase proteins, as well as hormonal mediators: it is defined as systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS), according to clinical parameters. However, in parallel, anti-inflammatory mediators are produced (compensatory anti-inflammatory response syndrome (CARS). An imbalance of these dual immune responses seems to be responsible for organ dysfunction and increased susceptibility to infections. Endothelial cell damage, accumulation of leukocytes, disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) and microcirculatory disturbances lead finally to apoptosis and necrosis of parenchymal cells, with the development of multiple organ dysfunction syndrome (MODS), or multiple organ failure (MOF). Whereas most clinical trials with anti-inflammatory, anti-coagulant, or antioxidant strategies failed, the implementation of pre- and in-hospital trauma protocols and the principle of damage control procedures have reduced post-traumatic complications. However, the development of immunomonitoring will help in the selection of patients at risk of post-traumatic complications and, thereby, the choice of the most appropriate treatment protocols for severely injured patients.