Falls from a height can be either accidental or intentional (suicide attempt). There are several prognostic factors for survival that have been identified:
- Type of surface
- Body part that touches the ground first
Two other factors are important, but do not have a significant effect on mortality:
- Circumstances of the fall (suicide, accident, escape)
- Initial impact with an object before impacting the ground
Height. Overall, about half of victims die at the scene, and a total of 70% die before they reach the hospital. The median height leading to death is about 49 feet, or about 4 to 5 storeys. 100% of victims die after falling 85 feet, or about 8 storeys.
Age. Mortality increases with age due to pre-existing medical conditions and decreased physiologic reserve.
Type of surface. The type of surface struck (i.e. grass, water, construction debris) can also have an effect on secondary injuries and survival. Mortality after striking a hard surface is nearly double that of hitting a soft one (39% vs 22%)
Body part touching the ground first. The highest mortality is seen when the victim lands in a prone position (57%). Striking head first has the next highest mortality at 44%. The best striking position is feet first, with a mortality of 6%.
Circumstances of the fall. Suicide attempts have the highest death rate at 46%. This may be attributable to pre-planning, and the increased likelihood that the fall may lead to additional trauma mechanisms (struck by car after jumping from land bridge, drowning after jumping from bridge over water). Accidental falls have a lower 17% mortality.
Initial impact before final impact. Striking wires or scaffolding before the final impact is protective, decreasing the death rate from 37% to 15%.
It is important for the trauma professional to obtain as much information from bystanders or EMS as possible about the fall details. This will ultimately enable to trauma physician to pursue appropriate diagnostic techniques to pinpoint specific injuries associated with various types of falls.
Crit Care Med 33(6): 1239-1242, 2005.