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What is Polytrauma?

Polytrauma, otherwise known as multiple traumata, is a medical term that is used to describe the overall condition of an individual who has suffered from multiple traumatic injuries. A common example of polytrauma would be when a person has a serious brain or head injury, as well as a serious burn injury on their head/body.

Polytrauma can also be relatively defined through an Injury Severity Score (ISS) of 16 or greater. Polytrauma typically is a medical term that has been used by physicians in the U.S. military within recent years during international conflicts including the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's also a general medical term that is used in the health care industry for civilian injuries that entail any kind of serious multiple traumata.

In the past, many U.S. Service Members simply wouldn't survive when suffering from multiple severe injuries. There have been some major advancements in terms of medical technology and protective gear the survival rates of both soldiers and civilians who endure polytrauma have significantly increased.

In order to give a more comprehensive overview of polytrauma and all that it entails, we will be delving in detail towards what exactly polytrauma typically entails, how major polytrauma tends to be, how physicians evaluate and treat people for polytrauma physically and psychologically and the recovery process that is involved with polytrauma.

What does Polytrauma Typically Entail?

As previously stated, polytrauma occurs when a person suffers from multiple significant injuries. In order to understand polytrauma, it's extremely important to understand the accidents that are commonly associated with polytrauma victims.

For civilians, the major type of accidents that lead to polytrauma is motor vehicle crashes. This is because of the intense velocities that often occur which can instantly create multiple injuries.

For military personnel, polytrauma can occur in many different ways, but in recent years, these injuries primarily have been the result of blast injuries from improvised explosive devices and rocket-propelled grenades.

For both civilians and military personnel, polytrauma commonly entails a combination of a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) with another type of disabling condition like burns, loss of limbs, spinal cord injuries, amputations, and visual or auditory damages. Other medical conditions can also apply to polytrauma, and typically those who experience polytrauma, especially soldiers, have a high risk of experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Is Polytrauma Serious? 

Polytrauma is always associated with injuries that have high complexity and severity, and the Injury Severity Score (ISS) is a medical score that defines the term major trauma. Although polytrauma is usually synonymous with major trauma, the literal definition of major trauma is a score of 15 or higher on the ISS.

The way in which the ISS works is that every body region is scrutinized for injuries on a six-point scale including:

  1. Minor
  2. Moderate
  3. Serious
  4. Severe
  5. Critical
  6. Maximal (currently untreatable)

The nine body regions that are assessed include:

  1. Head
  2. Face
  3. Neck
  4. Thorax
  5. Abdomen
  6. Spine
  7. Upper extremity
  8. Lower extremity
  9. External and other

It's also important to recognize that the head and neck regions include the cervical spine. The face region includes the facial skeleton, mouth, nose, ears, and eyes. The chest region includes the thoracic spine and diaphragm. The pelvic or abdomen region includes the abdominal organs and lumbar spine. The extremities and pelvic regions entail the pelvic skeleton.

Physicians will utilize this test to decipher just how major a polytrauma is, but there is so much more that goes into the overall evaluation and treatment of polytrauma victims that we'll discuss in detail below.

Treatment and Evaluation 

When someone is admitted into a hospital and shows symptoms of polytrauma, they are almost always taken to undergo an x-ray diagnosis of their chest, pelvis and cervical spine areas. This is part of what is known as a trauma series in the medical field, and it helps the physicians determine any potentially life-threatening injuries that may or may not have occurred. Some of the things that they'll be looking for in this part of the evaluation process would include any fractures in the cervical vertebra, any signs of a severely fractured pelvis or any signs of a haemothorax. The ISS evaluation plays a major part in this initial survey period of polytrauma treatment as well.

Many times, a polytrauma victim will immediately be sent to a surgery theatre or a CT scan if there is a need for an emergency operation. Also, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is known as an effective tool for physicians to help polytrauma victims who suffer from pulmonary/cardiopulmonary failures.

Overall, the ‘trademark' of polytrauma care entails an interdisciplinary approach that is patient-centered and works the polytrauma victim, as well as his or her family, to address every aspect of how the injury will affect the person's life. Many times, this includes psychological effects like PTSD that commonly occur later on once initial treatments have ended. Polytrauma is always an all-hands-on-deck medical treatment and requires a high level of coordination and support from many clinical care professionals.

There are five polytrauma rehabilitation centers and 22 polytrauma network sites located throughout the country and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs manages them all. They mainly specialize in rehabilitation treatment, and the five rehabilitation centers are located in Palo Alto, Minneapolis, Richmond, Tampa, and San Antonio.

Can you Recover from Polytrauma?

The recovery process for polytrauma victims always varies depending on the severity of the injuries, and the likelihood of full recovery is many times unpredictable considering that about 60 percent of polytrauma victims suffer from traumatic brain injuries.

Although brain cells do not grow back like all other cells in the human body, that doesn't mean that recovery is impossible because of a brain's ability to reorganize itself and regain lost function throughout a rehabilitation process. Within the first six months or so after a person experiences a traumatic brain injury (TBI), it is only certain that recovery is a tedious process that can take months or even years with ebbs and flows along the way.

Many times, polytrauma can lead to behavioral or emotional changes in the victim, which is pretty much due to the severity of the injuries and the lingering, complex symptoms that are associated with polytrauma.

The first six months of rehabilitation is crucial for polytrauma victims who have a TBI. A high level of coordination amongst medical professionals and other support systems is always essential whether or not a TBI is present in a polytrauma patient.

There are some physical ailments associated with polytrauma, like a loss of a limb that someone cannot fully recover from. If the physical health and safety of every polytrauma victim is the first and foremost concern for the Department of Veterans Affairs and the rehabilitation center specialists, it is the long-lasting psychological effects of polytrauma that are arguably even more important to consider when it comes to the likelihood of full recovery.

It's true that the rising number of polytrauma within the military and elsewhere is a legitimate sign of the technological advancements within modern medicine, and the fact that polytrauma victims are simply surviving more often today is an incredible feat. PTSD is a very common psychological complication for polytrauma victims that prevents people from fully regaining their previous mental form.

Many polytrauma victims never fully regain their physical form, which is part of the reason why the recovery process is so comprehensive and requires an entire team of medical specialists, as well as a loving support system.

Contact an Experienced Santa Rosa Injury Attorney

If your loved one suffers from polytrauma it doesn't mean they'll never be the same as they were before the accident, and through rigorous rehabilitative practices for both their bodies and minds, recovery is always possible. If you or a loved one has suffered injuries from an accident, contact or call our experienced accident attorneys at (707) 575-7141 today.

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