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World Journal of Emergency Medicine ›› 2014, Vol. 5 ›› Issue (1): 5-15.doi: 10.5847/wjem.j.issn.1920-8642.2014.01.001

• Review Articles •     Next Articles

Wilderness medicine

Douglas G. Sward1(), Brad L. Bennett2   

  1. 1Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Hyperbaric Medicine, Shock Trauma Center, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
    2Military & Emergency Medicine Department, F. Edward Hébert School of Medicine, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland, USA
  • Received:2013-09-10 Accepted:2014-01-15 Online:2014-03-15 Published:2014-03-15
  • Contact: Douglas G. Sward


BACKGROUND: Human activity in wilderness areas has increased globally in recent decades, leading to increased risk of injury and illness. Wilderness medicine has developed in response to both need and interest.
METHODS: The field of wilderness medicine encompasses many areas of interest. Some focus on special circumstances (such as avalanches) while others have a broader scope (such as trauma care). Several core areas of key interest within wilderness medicine are discussed in this study.
RESULTS: Wilderness medicine is characterized by remote and improvised care of patients with routine or exotic illnesses or trauma, limited resources and manpower, and delayed evacuation to definitive care. Wilderness medicine is developing rapidly and draws from the breadth of medical and surgical subspecialties as well as the technical fields of mountaineering, climbing, and diving. Research, epidemiology, and evidence-based guidelines are evolving. A hallmark of this field is injury prevention and risk mitigation. The range of topics encompasses high-altitude cerebral edema, decompression sickness, snake envenomation, lightning injury, extremity trauma, and gastroenteritis. Several professional societies, academic fellowships, and training organizations offer education and resources for laypeople and health care professionals.
CONCLUSIONS: The future of wilderness medicine is unfolding on multiple fronts: education, research, training, technology, communications, and environment. Although wilderness medicine research is technically difficult to perform, it is essential to deepening our understanding of the contribution of specific techniques in achieving improvements in clinical outcomes.

Key words: Wilderness medicine, High-altitude sickness, Dive medicine, Envenomation, Trauma, Hyperthermia, Hypothermia, Frostbite, Avalanche, Combat injuries, Search and rescue, Travel medicine, Disaster medicine