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There's no such thing as a safe shock

Doctor Chris Andrews discusses the effects of electric shocks to the body and how even a minor shock can lead to physical and mental issues.

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    Dr Christopher Andrews:

    There are several things we have to consider when we get an electric shock. One is what it does to the body physically, but it's a surprise to a lot of people that there are mental aspects to an electric shock as well.

    If we contact electricity via the hand, the thing that needs to happen is that a circuit is formed, and what might enter via the hand will leave the body through another part of the body. And the immediate, most important thing there is that it will pass the heart, and the heart is very vulnerable to electric shock. Immediate damage may be where the heart develops an abnormal rhythm, or maybe even goes into standstill so that all circulation is then lost. And of course that's not a good thing.

    Now over 24 hours say, we may see burns along the line of the current flow, and worryingly, internal burning to the muscles, blood vessels and nerves and things like that can have further damage. When we look at people getting a shock, even if it is minor, they still should be checked. In the longer period of time, we need to watch people for eye problems and hearing problems as well.

    We also see psychological effects, and this comes as a surprise to a lot of people. The psychological effects develop over a few weeks to months, and they include degrees of depression, they include personality change. People become quite phobic almost about electric current. But the really big thing that we do see is what's called cognitive change, and that is in reasoning ability and ability to plan, ability to handle finances, ability to do those sort of mental arithmetic and agility functions that people need to do.

    You may in fact come across someone you see getting an electric shock or in the process of being shocked. It's important not to touch that person, because one could get a similar shock from the person themselves. The most important thing is to turn the power off.

    Over 30 years I've seen some very serious electric shocks. The watch word is that there is no such thing as a safe shock. Sadly people lose limbs, they have significant burns and scarring, and this of course alters their physical life and their working life. But psychological injuries can be particularly harmful. They change personalities. They destroy relationships. They destroy working lives in terms of the ability to do the mental work that one needs to do. Every shock must be taken seriously, and we should try and prevent them rather than have to treat them.

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