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What is seat belt syndrome?

Seat belts really do save lives. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), someone in the front seat of a passenger car is 45% less likely to be killed in a crash and 50% less likely to suffer serious injuries if they have their seat belt on.

Even so, seat belts can sometimes cause injuries, too. Seat belt syndrome occurs when the seat belt locks into place so abruptly and so hard during a wreck that it compresses the abdomen and chest of the victim, leading to hidden internal injuries that can damage their heart, stomach, kidneys, bladder, colon and bowels.

What are the symptoms of seat belt syndrome?

Right after the wreck, victims of seat belt syndrome may not even realize that they’re seriously hurt. Adrenaline and shock can both mask a lot of pain. In addition, much of the damage from seat belt syndrome develops over time, through internal bleeding, inflammation and swelling.

Seat belt syndrome is usually heralded by a pattern of bruises that follow the line of the straps on the seat belt. You may have a lot more than bruises, however, if you have:

  • Pain in your sternum (the flat bone in the center of your chest)
  • Swelling or discoloration around your abdomen that gets worse
  • Generalized weakness or dizziness or weakness in your legs alone
  • Blood in your stool or urine, or difficulty going to the bathroom
  • Vomiting, coughing and difficulty breathing
  • Significant abdominal pain or pain when taking a breath

If you have any suspicions that you may have seat belt syndrome, treat your condition like a medical emergency. Immediate treatment may be required to prevent permanent disability or save your life.

A serious injury in a car wreck can leave you with physical and financial challenges. Learn more about what it takes to make a successful claim for damages.