What is the role of conducted electrical devices in the pathogenesis of electrical injuries?

Updated: Mar 09, 2020
  • Author: Tracy A Cushing, MD, MPH, FACEP, FAWM; Chief Editor: Joe Alcock, MD, MS  more...
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Conducted electrical weapons (CEWs) such as tasers are weapons used by law enforcement that deliver high-voltage current that is neither true AC or DC but is most like a series of low-amplitude DC shocks. [16] They can deliver 50,000 V in a 5-second pulse, with an average current of 2.1 mA. [17] Though they have been temporally associated with deaths in the law enforcement setting, conducted electrical devices (CEDs) in healthy volunteers have been shown to be safe without evidence of delayed arrhythmia or cardiac damage as measured by troponin I. [18, 17]

One study of their use in 1201 law enforcement incidents showed mostly superficial puncture wounds from the device probes, and significant injuries only from trauma subsequent to shock, not from the device itself. Of 2 deaths in custody, neither was related to CEW exposure. [19]

Overall significant injuries from CEW exposure are rare, and usually occur due to trauma or in conjunction with intoxication. [20, 21] Of the more than 3 million CEW applications by law enforcement in the United States, only 12 published case reports suggest a link to cardiac arrest. [22] However, the issue of whether CEW usage can cause cardiac arrest is not without controversy, as some suggest a direct cardiac risk. [23]

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