Lightning Awareness Week: Effects of lightning strikes on the body

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Each year in the United States, approximately 50 people are stricken and killed by lightning with many more people surviving. The physical effects on survivors may be temporary while other effects may last a lifetime.

The most immediate effect to the body is cardiac arrest from electric current flowing though the body. Lightning’s electric current disrupts the sinoatrial node, which is the heart’s natural pace maker that keeps it pumping in rhythm.

Calling 911 immediately is critical for the victim to survive the strike. CPR needs to be used to keep blood flowing though the body. Often times, paramedics will have to use electronic defibrillators to restart the heart and to get it back into a regular rhythm.

Despite the extreme heat that lightning produces, strike victims rarely experience serious burns. The primary damage done to survivor’s bodies is to the muscular and nervous systems.

Immediate symptoms felt may be muscle soreness, headaches, nausea, confusion, and memory slowness. Some lightning strike victims also experience dizziness or balance problems.

Some of the symptoms experienced may last much longer and develop well after the lightning strike. Many of the long-term problems that lightning strike victims experience are from the effects on the body’s nervous system. These may be changes to long and short-term memory, slowed reaction time, and even personality changes.

The National Weather Service says that treating mental health after a lightning strike is just as important as physical health. Due to changes in personality and cognitive function that victims sometimes experience, seclusion and isolation from friends and family happens in cases leading to depression.

It is important to find a support network for strike victims to continue living a normal and healthy life. The Lightning Strike and Electric Shock Survivors International (LSESSI) is a survivor support group for victims and their families.

If you or someone you know needs help, please reach out to LSESSI: https://www.lightning-strike.org/ or call 910-346-4708

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