After an auto accident, it might not be obvious whether you’ve sustained injuries. Some types of injuries – especially soft-tissue damage like whiplash – don’t produce symptoms right away. It might take days or even weeks before the pain rears its ugly head.

Rare complications can also get overlooked. Doctors in emergency rooms and urgent-care departments know which “biggies” to watch out for – back and neck injuries, head trauma, internal bleeding – but they might not detect the one-in-a-million cases that produce unusual problems. Cases like:

  • A prolonged brain leak… For years after her car accident, a Nebraska woman struggled with a chronic runny nose. Her doctors assumed it to be allergies. After visiting a specialist, the woman finally learned that she had a small hole in her skull between her nose and brain, resulting in a slow but steady leak of brain fluid – which could have proven fatal. The likely cause? Trauma to that region when she hit her head on the dashboard during the collision.
  • A flesh-eating bacterial infection… Ten days after getting hit by a motorcycle, a 40-year-old man was hospitalized with an infected wound in the upper thigh. The wound quickly spread, causing tissue death over a broad area of skin, eating it away down the muscle. The patient died within 24 hours. An autopsy revealed a flesh-eating bacterial infection called “necrotizing fasciitis” which likely took hold in a minor wound caused by the accident.
  • A delayed bowel obstruction… For two years after his accident, a 20-year-old man suffered from chronic abdominal pain that culminated in constipation and vomiting. Surgeons discovered scarring and strictures (narrowing) of his small intestine, likely from the trauma he sustained during the accident. This damage led to a bowel obstruction years later.

While rare, these worst-case scenarios illustrate the importance of getting a thorough medical evaluation after a car accident. And if seemingly new health problems arise months or years later, get checked out – they could still be related to your accident.

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