What Are the Most Common Internal Injuries From Car Accidents?

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every day more than 9,400 people go to an emergency room after a car accident. But this number underestimates how many people have been injured, because people often do not seek treatment for internal injuries.

Internal injuries after a motor vehicle accident are common. These injuries are especially deadly because they do not produce obvious symptoms to warn injured victims that they are in medical jeopardy. As the British Medical Journal’s best practices guide says, nearly 75% of blunt abdominal trauma injuries are caused by motor vehicle accidents, and even for nurses and physicians “abdominal trauma patients are often difficult to assess” because there are so many different types of injuries, with a variety of vague symptoms.

Complicating the problem, the accident has often disturbed the patient’s mental state, making it difficult to obtain complete information. It’s not unusual for internal injuries to be discovered several days after the collision when the crash victim is admitted to the hospital in serious distress.

Types of Internal Injuries Caused by Car Wrecks

At the point of impact in a car accident, occupants in the vehicle may be slammed against the windshield, dashboard, airbags, or steering wheel. They may also be hit by unsecured cargo or debris from the collision. If you have been involved in a car wreck, you may be wondering “What are the most common internal injuries from car accidents?” The following are common internal injuries sustained in auto accidents:

  • Broken ribs
  • Pneumothorax (collapsed lung)
  • Organ damage
  • Ruptured spleen
  • Rupture of abdominal aorta
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Internal bleeding

Below is more detail on each injury type, including symptoms, causes, and dangers of these internal injuries.

Broken Ribs

Symptoms may include severe pain when breathing, coughing, or moving, tenderness or swelling in the affected area, and in some cases, visible bruising. These injuries pose significant dangers due to their proximity to vital organs. If a broken rib punctures a lung, it can lead to a life-threatening condition called pneumothorax, characterized by collapsed lung. Similarly, broken ribs can also damage the spleen or liver, leading to serious internal bleeding.

Pneumothorax (collapsed lung)

A collapsed lung, medically known as pneumothorax, is a serious internal injury that can occur in a car accident. The force of the impact can cause a sharp object or broken rib to pierce the lung, leading to its collapse. Symptoms of a collapsed lung include sharp or stabbing chest pain, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, and fatigue. Immediate medical attention is crucial as a collapsed lung can lead to life-threatening situations such as respiratory failure or tension pneumothorax, where the pressure in the chest cavity increases, impairing cardiac function.

Organ Damage

Symptoms of organ damage may vary depending on the organ affected, but common signs include abdominal pain, bleeding, lightheadedness, and shock. Causes typically involve high-impact collisions that subject the body to extreme forces, leading to ruptures or perforations in organs such as the liver, kidneys, or spleen. The dangers of organ damage are profound, with the potential for severe complications such as internal bleeding or organ failure.

Ruptured Spleen

The spleen, located on the left side of the abdomen, helps filter blood and fight infections. In a car accident, the impact can lead to a tear or rupture in the spleen. The primary symptoms of a ruptured spleen include severe pain in the upper left abdomen, tenderness when touching the left upper abdomen, left shoulder pain, confusion, lightheadedness, and blurred vision. These symptoms may not manifest immediately but could follow within hours or days after the accident. A ruptured spleen is hazardous because it results in internal bleeding, potentially leading to life-threatening complications if not treated promptly.

Rupture of Abdominal Aorta

The abdominal aorta is the major blood vessel that supplies blood to the lower part of the body, and when it ruptures, it can cause massive internal bleeding, a situation that requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms of a ruptured abdominal aorta include severe pain in the abdomen or back, a pulsating sensation in the abdomen, and signs of shock, such as cold and sweaty skin, rapid heart rate, and fainting. The danger of this injury is its rapid progression — a victim can lose a fatal amount of blood within minutes. Therefore, immediate diagnosis and surgical intervention are crucial to increase survival chances.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) may result from a sudden jolt or a heavy blow to the head, common in car crashes. TBI can manifest through various symptoms, including persistent headaches, confusion, dizziness, memory problems, mood changes, and in some circumstances, unconsciousness. The consequences of TBI can range from mild, short-term discomfort to severe, long-lasting effects that may require lifelong medical care. It’s crucial to note that the symptoms might not emerge immediately, making it essential for accident victims to seek immediate medical attention. Long-term dangers can include cognitive impairment, emotional instability, and in severe cases, permanent disability or death.

Internal Bleeding

Car accidents often cause trauma to blood vessels within the body, preventing them from clotting or repairing themselves and causing internal bleeding. Some symptoms of internal bleeding include:

  • Abdominal or chest pain
  • Feeling cold
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Pale complexion or nausea
  • Thirst
  • Fatigue

Causes of Internal Bleeding

Blunt trauma

Blunt trauma caused by car accidents, happens when a body part collides with something else, usually at a high speed. Blood vessels inside the body may be torn or crushed either by shear forces or by a blunt object.

Decelerating trauma

Decelerating trauma happens when body organs continue a forward trajectory even though the spine, muscles and other organs come to an abrupt stop. While most people assume that their bodies accelerate and decelerate as one object, decelerating trauma can impact vital organs such as the heart, lungs, and brain. Many traumatic brain injuries (TBI) occur without victims striking their head on an object, but instead when the brain strikes the skull and moves around inside the head.

Penetrating trauma

Penetrating trauma occurs when a car accident victim experience a laceration or deep puncture wound, emergency responders may focus on the puncture wound and miss internal bleeding or organ perforation.

While blunt trauma and penetrating trauma provide ample and immediate reasons for car accident victims to seek medical treatment and evaluations. Internal injuries caused by decelerating trauma often go untreated because the victim shows no outer signs of injury and may not feel symptoms for hours, days, weeks or even months following the collision. Decelerating trauma is the most silent and serious cause of internal injury.

Our car accident injury lawyers highly recommend victims of accidents to undergo extensive diagnostic testing after accidents in order to rule out internal injuries. Victims may feel this testing is unnecessary now but have a significantly better chance of recovery if doctors are able to diagnose the condition early.

Doctor speaking to a patient - common internal injuries related to car accidents

Internal Injury Symptoms to Look for After a Car Accident

While difficult to find, it is important to know what symptoms to look for if you’ve been involved in a car accident. Here are common symptoms of impact-related internal injuries:

Pain

High-impact accidents may injure the organs in your abdomen or chest, leading to serious health complications. Look for abdominal and chest pain or tenderness. Victims should seek medical attention for any chest, stomach, or groin tenderness after an accident, even if it’s mild. Symptoms of internal injuries may seem minor at first but worsen over time.

Nausea

Car accident victims may feel nauseous or dizzy after collisions due to blood loss. Some victims vomit after suffering internal injuries. Vomiting after an accident is a sign that something is wrong, especially if there is blood in the vomit.

Bruising

Bruising occurs even when the injuries are internal. If you notice dark purple skin, this indicates that you are bleeding into your soft tissues and skin. This is much more serious than an everyday bruise.

Signs of Shock

Typically your body goes into shock if you start to lose a lot of blood over a short period of time. Victims may experience rapid heart rate, weakness, lightheadedness, and lethargy.

Blood in Urine or Stool

If there is blood after you use the bathroom, you should see a medical professional immediately. Do not assume it will just “go away,” it can reflect a worsening problem caused by injuries to kidneys, bowels, or elsewhere.

The Dangers of Internal Injuries

After a car accident, it is common for drivers and passengers of the vehicle to conduct self-evaluations of their bodies to make sure that they are ok. In many cases, a doctor may also examine the accident victim to see what physical damage has occurred. However, to diagnose an internal injury, you will need a medical expert to perform an x-ray, CT scan, or angiography in order to carefully examine bones, tissues, and blood vessels. Emergency rooms often begin an assessment with the “EFAST,” or Extended Focused Assessment with Sonography for Trauma, which uses an ultrasound to look for bleeding or fluid accumulation.

Injuries to organs like the spleen, liver, pancreas, and gallbladder don’t produce the same outward swelling and redness like injuries to muscles, skin, and bone. They also don’t produce obvious changes in urine or stool. But they can be deadly just the same, including hemorrhagic (bleeding) shock and peritonitis, a type of extreme swelling and inflammation of the peritoneum.

Internal injuries are serious and present catastrophic dangers to victims of car crashes. This is because these injuries can quickly develop into more serious conditions. Even slow-speed traffic collisions can result in serious trauma to the interior of the body.

Internal Injuries Caused by Seatbelts

While proper seatbelt use can help protect you in accidents, wearing one incorrectly can cause internal injuries as your entire body weight is projected against the seatbelt. During a car crash, victims may sustain injuries to muscles in the torso, along with lungs, liver, spleen, heart or bowels.

Treatment and Compensation for Internal Injuries

Internal Injury symptoms might not show up right away, but it is important to get checked out by a doctor immediately following an accident in order to have the best chance at recovery. A personal injury attorney will be able to help you determine what your case is worth. Those who sustain internal injuries should be fully compensated for:

  • All medical costs – including ongoing care or adaptive devices that may be necessary to cope with internal injuries after sustaining permanent injuries.
  • Lost wages, covering not just time off work but sick time and any future reduction in income resulting from the car accident injuries
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress damages

Internal injuries caused by car accidents require costly and extensive medical care, often leaving victims with large medical bills and forcing them to take time off work to recover. If you or someone you know has suffered an internal injury from a car accident caused by someone else’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation.

The car accident attorneys at Thompson Law are committed to helping victims fight for the compensation they deserve. Our law firm offers a “No Win, No Fee” guarantee to all our clients, meaning we will never accept payment for our services until we have secured compensation for our clients.

Call us today anytime 24/7/365 to schedule a free, no-obligation legal consultation, or submit and inquiry via our free consultation form.

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