Injuries to any part of the body inflicted by a sharp object
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.
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).
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.
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).
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.