How Electrical Shocks Affect Your Health

31 August, 2022
How Electrical Shocks Affect Your Health

What do you picture when someone describes an electrical shock? Most people think lightning or a light outlet zap. The reality is that an electric shock occurs anytime electric currents touch or pass through the body. That means anything with live electricity can shock you.

Has a friend ever zapped you with a static shock? Because the human body is a great conductor of electricity, every electric shock affects it. Some of those effects are life-threatening.

The Hi-Lite crew is the go-to for electrical installation services in Toronto. As industry experts, we know all about electric shocks and how to avoid them. Read on to see just how shocks can affect your health.

The “Let-Go” Threshold

Sometimes the current level of an electrical shock can be so great it makes you lose control of your muscles. After a significant current, you won’t be able to let go of the electrical source voluntarily. This is known as the let-go threshold.

Check out the body’s response to different current levels, measured in milliamps (mA) below.

  • 0.2–2 mA- A tingling sensation
  • 1-2+ mA- A noticeable and painful shock
  • 3-5 mA- Let-go threshold for children
  • 6-25 mA- Let-go threshold for women
  • 9-30 mA-  Let-go threshold for men
  • 50-150 mA- Excruciating shock and respiratory arrest (breathing stops)
  • 1000 mA- Nerve damage occurs, and death is likely

For context, a standard microwave typically uses an electric current measured at 9000 mA. Even small appliances can produce big shocks. The perfect reason to call an electrical installation service in Toronto when setting up complex electrical systems.

Possible Effects of an Electric Shock


An electric shock can severely burn a human body. A nasty electrical shock can even burn your organs. Your body will naturally try to resist the current of an electric shock and will generate excess heat in the process, leaving you burned.

The human body is an excellent conductor of electricity, so burns can occur anywhere the current enters the body. You’ll likely recognize an electric burn because the mark it leaves is similar to burns from contact heat. Some burns may look small and harmless but could be hiding internal issues. Small charred craters on the skin can indicate severe organ damage. Internal burns can have serious consequences such as:

  • Scarring or charring
  • Loss of function
  • Death
  • Amputation
  • Loss of or reduced sensation in the affected area

Most burns from electric shocks are in the first to the third-degree range.

First-Degree– These are superficial burns that only affect the top layer of skin. Expect redness, swelling and pain.

Second-Degree- Also known as partial thickness burns, these burns penetrate the epidermis and part of the dermis. Skin blistering is the most common sign of a second-degree burn.

Third-Degree- Sometimes called full-thickness burns, these burns affect deep layers of tissue. These burns can also turn the skin white or black. The tissue in the area is usually numb after the injury.

Nervous System Disruption

The nervous system is a highly complex part of our bodies that control our movements with chemical and electrical signals. It can be split into the peripheral nervous system (nerves) and the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord).

Nerves are constantly communicating with each other to create movement by sending low-voltage electrical signals. When a significant electric shock passes through these cells, its larger current overloads the nervous system and blocks the signals that create voluntary muscle movement. After that, your muscles will involuntarily contract or spasm. The results of an electric shock to the peripheral nervous system can be permanent but usually resolve themselves with time. These effects can include:

  • A tingling sensation
  • Numbness
  • Difficulty moving limbs
  • Involuntary spasms
  • Respiratory arrest

A severe electric shock risks damaging the central nervous system (CNS). Since the CNS involves the brain, electric shocks can result in various neurological disorders. These may include:

  • Amnesia or memory loss
  • Fainting
  • Sciatica
  • Seizures
  • Reduced attention span
  • Difficulty concentrating

Heart Irregularities

The most severe and common electric injuries usually involve the heart. The heart’s central location and all blood passing through it make it more susceptible to injuries than other organs.

Like all other muscles, the heart’s rhythm and movement are controlled by electrical impulses. When the electrical impulses from a shock mask the heart’s rhythm, an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) occurs. An irregular heart rhythm is usually present right after the shock but may manifest hours later.

Arrhythmias are generally harmless but increase your risk of more serious heart problems. An example of this is ventricular fibrillation. Ventricular fibrillation causes the heart to stop pumping, stopping blood circulation. Victims rapidly lose consciousness and will die if a regular heartbeat isn’t restored with CPR or a defibrillator.

Late Complications

Not all of the effects of an electric shock are present right after it happens. What’s more, most injuries from an electric shock can be treated but not cured. This means that you could be dealing with the aftermath of a shock for days, weeks, months and even years.

Bradycardia: Most common in older individuals, bradycardia is a heart rate that’s too slow. A resting heart rate under 60 beats per minute usually qualifies as bradycardia in the average adult.

Cataracts: Cataracts developing over time may be linked to an electric current that passes through the eye. Around 6% of people who experience a significant electric shock will develop cataracts in the first twelve months after the injury.

Contracture: This is a permanent tightening of muscles, tendons and skin that shortens and stiffens a joint’s range of motion.

Migraines: A severe headache usually accompanied by a throbbing sensation and sensitivity to stimuli such as light or sound.

Phantom Pain: Phantom pain is pain or discomfort from an area of the body that has been amputated.

Psychological Disorders: The emotional trauma of a shock can cause mental health issues. PTSD, depression and insomnia are just a few examples of common

neuropsychological problems that can occur.

Call Us

There’s no reason to risk shocks when dealing with electricity. Call us at 416-800-5523 for your electrical installation service needs in Toronto, or click here to request service.

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