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Stab Injuries

Injuries to any part of the body inflicted by a sharp object

  • More common in young adults
  • More common in males
  • Living in urban areas is a risk factor
  • Genetics is not a significant factor

Knife injuries resulted in about 4,900 people being admitted to hospital in England in 2008, mostly young men living in urban areas. Stab wounds vary in severity, depending on the site and depth of the wound. Chest or abdominal wounds are particularly likely to cause internal bleeding, which can be life-threatening.

Medical attention is always essential after a stab injury because visible bleeding is often minor in relation to the severity of the internal injuries.

What are the types?

Shallow wounds may damage skin and muscle only. However, deeper wounds can cause significant internal bleeding, which may lead to loss of consciousness and shock.

Stab injuries may also cause damage to specific body organs. For example, a stab wound to the chest may result in a pneumothorax, in which air enters the space between the two-layered membrane that surrounds the lungs, causing breathing difficulties. If the abdomen is wounded in a stab injury, there is a risk of the intestines being punctured and the contents leaking into the abdominal cavity, which can result in infection (see Peritonitis).

What can I do?

Call for immediate medical assistance. Find a trained first-aider to make sure that the person is breathing and has a pulse and to try to stop any external bleeding. If the weapon is still in the body, it should be left in place until doctors can remove it safely.

What might the doctor do?

Shallow wounds may only need stitching. An injection to prevent tetanus (see Vaccines and immunoglobulins) and antibiotics to prevent infection may be given.

Deeper stab injuries require a full assessment to check for internal damage. Emergency measures may include giving oxygen and intravenous fluids. A blood transfusion may also be needed. CT scanning and MRI may be done to look for internal bleeding, and exploratory surgery may be carried out to locate and repair the site of internal bleeding. If a chest X-ray shows a pneumothorax, a tube is inserted to allow the air to escape (see Chest drain).

The outlook depends on the type of stab injury. The victim may be offered counselling to help to reduce his or her risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

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