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Hidden injuries are a threat: Get medical care after a crash

You were traveling to see a friend when the worst situation you could imagine happened. A large truck lost control on the road in front of you, and its trailer struck your vehicle. You had no time to react before having your vehicle launched head-on into the median strip.

You were shocked to find that you could exit your car and walk away without feeling that you had any serious injuries. You were shaken up, but other than that, you felt fine. You called 911 and waited for the emergency team to arrive, but you just wanted to go home. You weren't hurt anyway, right?

Hidden injuries can be among the most dangerous

Many people end up in situations like yours, where they feel that they have not been injured and are safe to return home or to where they were going before the crash. The truth is that you may have any number of hidden injuries, especially after high-speed or particularly serious collisions.

Some common hidden injuries include:

  • Abdominal bleeding
  • Brain injuries
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Back pain
  • Whiplash
  • Headaches

Of these, brain injuries and abdominal bleeding have the potential to become life-threatening.

Why is it so hard to tell if you're hurt following a collision?

When you're hurt in a crash, your body does everything it can to make sure you can fight or flee the scene. Your body pumps adrenaline, endorphins and other chemicals to help you feel strong and alert.

The problem with this reaction is that it can hide a lot of serious injuries. For instance, you may not develop the headache or tension of whiplash for 24 to 48 hours, because your body is working hard to keep you agile.

Another issue is that inflammation and swelling take time. Consider a brain injury. Though there is some initial swelling, it may take several minutes to hours for the brain to swell to a point of causing symptoms. As it swells, it runs out of room in the skull, which then becomes a potentially life-threatening situation that can cause secondary complications. The same thing is true of abdominal bleeding. Some people don't have much pain and don't realize that they're bleeding internally until their stomach has developed a darkened area where blood has pooled.

After a serious crash, it's necessary to seek medical help. A full exam can catch many of these delayed reactions that you may not notice, so you can receive appropriate medical care.

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