Does voltage predict return to work and neuropsychiatric sequelae following electrical burn injury?

Ann Plast Surg. 2010 May;64(5):522-5. doi: 10.1097/SAP.0b013e3181c1ff31.


Voltage has historically guided the acute management and long-term prognosis of physical morbidity in electrical injury patients; however, few large studies exist that include neuropsychiatric morbidity in final outcome analysis. This review compares high (>1000 V) to low (<1000 V) voltage injuries, focusing on return to work and neuropsychiatric sequelae following electrical burn injury. Patients with electrical injuries admitted to the University of North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center between 2000 and 2005 were prospectively entered into a trauma database, then retrospectively reviewed. Patients were divided into 4 cohorts: high voltage (>1000 V), low voltage (<1000 V), flash arc, and lightning. Demographics, hospital course, and follow-up were recorded to determine physical and neuropsychiatric morbidity. Differences among cohorts were tested for statistical significance. Over 5 years, 2548 patients were admitted to the burn center, including 115 patients with electrical injuries. There were 110 males and 5 females, with a mean age of 35 years (range, 0.75-65 years). The cause of the electrical injury was high voltage in 60 cases, low voltage in 25 cases, flash arc in 29 cases and lightning in 1 case. The mean total body surface area burn was 8% (range, 0%-52%). The etiology was work-related electrical injury in 85 patients. Mean follow-up period was 352 days with 13 (11%) patients lost to follow-up. Patients with high voltage injuries had significantly larger total body surface area burn, longer ICU stays, longer hospitalizations, and significantly higher rates of fasciotomy, amputation, nerve decompression and outpatient reconstruction, with 4 cases of renal failure and 2 deaths. In spite of these differences, high and low voltage groups experienced similar rates of neuropsychiatric sequelae, limited return to work and delays in return to work. Final impairment ratings for the high and low voltage groups were 17.5% and 5.3%, respectively. Electrical injuries often incur severe morbidity despite relatively small burn size and/or low voltage. When comparing high and low voltage injuries, similarities in endpoints such as neuropsychiatric sequelae, the need for late reconstruction, and failure to return to work challenge previous notions that voltage predicts outcome.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Occupational
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Amputation / statistics & numerical data
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Electric Injuries / etiology
  • Electric Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Electric Injuries / psychology*
  • Electric Injuries / therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Length of Stay / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Care Team
  • Reconstructive Surgical Procedures / statistics & numerical data
  • Recovery of Function
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Work*