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Side Effects of a TASER Gun

author image Dr. Tom Iarocci
An independent writing and editing professional since 2007, Tom Iarocci received his M.D. from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, where he also studied antibiotic resistance. His contributions to cancer research were acknowledged in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Side Effects of a TASER Gun
Close-up of a woman holding a taser gun Photo Credit Christopher Furlong/Getty Images News/Getty Images

More than 225,000 officers and 120,000 U.S. citizens carry Tasers, according to a 2011 report by the University of California, San Diego, Medical Center and San Diego State University. Tasers are used by law enforcement in all 50 states as a less lethal alternative to handguns. They can be fired from 20 feet away to incapacitate an assailant, while stun guns require contact with clothing or skin to inflict pain. Despite favorable outcomes relative to handguns, Tasers still do cause bodily harm, including barbed dart injuries and trauma from falls.

Pain, Muscle Aches and Anxiety

Side Effects of a TASER Gun
A law enforcement officer carrying a taser gun. Photo Credit Oli Scarff/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The Taser device releases a pair of 9-millimeter barbs, attached to the gun by thin copper wires, to deliver an electrical pulse that causes involuntary muscular contractions. The effect has been described as a full-body "charley horse." People seen in emergency departments afterward for removal of the barbs usually report pain, muscle aches and anxiety. In addition, there is a risk that barbs may strike vulnerable areas such as the eyes or genitals.

Cuts, Scrapes and Trauma

Side Effects of a TASER Gun
A close-up of a taser gun. Photo Credit Ethan Miller/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Because the Taser barbs are designed to stick in skin or clothing and not fall out, they sometimes have to be removed in the emergency department. According to a March 2004 review in the “Emergency Medicine Journal,” many people need treatment for minor trauma, such as cuts and scrapes, after being "Tasered" because they usually fall to the ground. Broken bones are also possible, and there are at least 6 cases of deaths from head injuries after falls in the wake of Taser firings. Most healthy patients seen in the ER may be safely discharged after barb removal and routine evaluation.

Sudden Death

Side Effects of a TASER Gun
The exterior of a drive leading to an emergency room at a hospital. Photo Credit Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The role of Tasers in sudden cardiac death is controversial. According to an article published in the January 2014 issue of “Circulation,” of the more than 3 million total Taser applications, there have been 12 published case reports suggesting a potential cardiac arrest link. Cases of sudden death have been associated with drug use and heart disease, but risks for individuals in these situations have not been clearly established.

Other Injuries

Side Effects of a TASER Gun
A close-up of a man with a taser wound on his neck. Photo Credit George Frey/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Isolated reports of injuries associated with Taser use include shots to the eye and seizures after Taser shots to the head. Research is ongoing with respect to the safety and potential harm from Tasers, including effects of the duration of the jolt and effects of repeated "Tasering."

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