Did you realize that, each time you see the doctor, your diagnosis and treatment are recorded using numeric medical codes? In the U.S., ICD codes, as they are known, are highly complex and detailed; physical injuries alone are described by more than 3,000 of these codes, ranging from insect bites to vehicular accidents involving animals. If you’ve ever looked at medical records or a medical bill, the five-digit number next to a diagnostic comment is the ICD code.
Researchers have now used these codes to determine the most common injuries in each state, with some interesting results.
Bruising and Wounds
Once you boil down many of the ICD codes into broad categories, some trends begin to emerge. The most common injuries by state in the U.S. are bruising and open wounds (any time the skin is cut), with the sole exception of Colorado, where falls were the most common. The codes used for the research came from a health insurance database of injury diagnoses during the years 2012 to 2016. South Carolina, for the record, has bruising listed as its most common injury.
But, still, that doesn’t tell us much, does it? So the researchers dug a little deeper.
Each State’s Most Distinctive Injury
Because a broad category like bruising or open wounds isn’t terribly informative, the researchers compared the frequency of the injury in each state with the frequency of the same injury across the U.S. When an injury appeared in a state more times than was normal for the nation—that is, disproportionately—the injury was counted.
An example might better illustrate this situation. In the U.S., injuries caused by vehicular accidents comprise 1.5 percent of all physical injury diagnoses. However, in Tennessee, vehicular accident injuries make up 2.5 percent of all physical injury diagnoses, making such injuries disproportionate in that state.
In South Carolina, the most disproportionately-frequent injury was unspecified chest injuries. This phrase still doesn’t tell us very much, but it can lead us somewhere.
Chest Injuries and Car Wrecks
Did you realize that 25 percent of all deaths arise from chest trauma, and that a leading cause of chest trauma is car crashes? In fact, chest trauma turns out to be one of the five most common types of injuries caused by car accidents. (The others are generally whiplash—neck and back injuries, concussions and brain injuries, head injuries, and leg and foot injuries.) Chest injuries caused by car accidents are not uncommon, although chest injuries are often not what we often think about when we visualize car crashes. We’re more likely to think about whiplash or head, neck, and back injuries.
In reality, chest injuries can range from bruising to broken ribs to aortic rupture to cardiac tamponade. Both of the last two medical emergencies can arise from vehicular accidents, and they are often fatal.
- Blows to the chest front (sternum) can mean injury to the heart, the aorta, or the esophagus.
- Blows to the chest front (sternum) can also mean injury to the lungs or trachea (airway).
- Blows to the side of the chest, or the lower portion of the chest, can harm the spleen or liver.
- Blows to the back of the chest can harm a kidney.
We have one final point to make: Statistics for fatal motor vehicle crashes that occurred during 2015 have been analyzed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It turns out that the death rate for every 100 million miles was 1.89 in South Carolina, making us No. 1 (meaning we had the most deaths per 100 million miles). That’s significant for a state that’s not geographically one of the larger ones.
How many of these deaths are caused by chest injuries? We don’t have the numbers to know that. But if we consider SC’s death rate in car crashes alongside the fact that chest injuries occur frequently during serious accidents, we can speculate that our disproportionate injuries—unspecified chest injuries—might be at least partially caused by car crashes.