Trauma – what is it?

Trauma is an injury which occurs when a physical force contacts the body. The trauma may be blunt or penetrating.

Blunt trauma means there is no penetration of the body, and examples include motor vehicle collisions, falls, and assaults with a blunt object. Examples of penetrating trauma include gunshot wounds and stab wounds. Exposure to these forces can cause soft tissue injuries, fractures, bleeding, and tearing of vital organs and blood vessels, all of which can result in severe disability and death.

In some situations, such as car accidents and explosions, the body can suffer multiple trauma. In such cases, many different forces cause blunt and penetrating trauma, resulting in serious injuries to more than one area of the body.

The severity of a person’s injuries is measured using the Injury Severity Score (ISS), which is an anatomical scoring system which provides an overall score for patients with multiple injuries. The maximum value is 75, which can indicate at least one ‘unsurvivable’ injury or critical injuries to at least three body regions.

Major trauma, also known as polytrauma, is defined by an ISS of more than 15.

Every year, around 20,000 people in the UK suffer major trauma, which is the most common cause of death in the UK for people aged under the age of 40. As well as the tragedy for victims and their loved ones, every trauma death costs the country around £750,000 and every major injury £50,000.

The World Health Organisation has predicted that trauma will be the leading cause of death in the world by 2020.

It has been estimated by the government that major trauma costs the NHS between £0.3 and £0.4 billion a year in immediate treatment, while the annual lost economic output as a result of major trauma is between £3.3 billion and £3.7 billion.

Treating trauma effectively is one of the most pressing challenges in modern healthcare, and Birmingham is a traditional centre of excellence in developing new methods of treatment and rehabilitation.