Intended for healthcare professionals

Clinical Review ABC of burns


BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 03 June 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:1366
  1. Shehan Hettiaratchy,
  2. Peter Dziewulski


    Burns are one of the most devastating conditions encountered in medicine. The injury represents an assault on all aspects of the patient, from the physical to the psychological. It affects all ages, from babies to elderly people, and is a problem in both the developed and developing world. All of us have experienced the severe pain that even a small burn can bring. However the pain and distress caused by a large burn are not limited to the immediate event. The visible physical and the invisible psychological scars are long lasting and often lead to chronic disability. Burn injuries represent a diverse and varied challenge to medical and paramedical staff. Correct management requires a skilled multidisciplinary approach that addresses all the problems facing a burn patient.

    This series provides an overview of the most important aspects of burn injuries for hospital and non-hospital healthcare workers.

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    Embedded Image

    Top: Child with 70% full thickness burns, which required resuscitation, intensive care support, and extensive debridement and skin grafting. Left: The same child one year later at a burns camp, having made a good recovery. A reasonable outcome is possible even with severe burn injuries

    How common are burns?

    In the United Kingdom about 250 000 people are burnt each year. Of these, 175 000 attend accident and emergency departments, and 13 000 of these are admitted to hospital. Some 1000 patients have severe enough burns to warrant formal fluid resuscitation; half of these are children aged under 12 years. In an average year 300 burn deaths occur. These UK figures are representative of most of the developed world countries, although some, such as the United States, have a higher incidence.

    Burns are also a major problem in the developing world. Over two million burn injuries are thought to occur each year in India (population 500 million), but this …

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