An electric shock can occur upon contact of a human body with any source of voltage high enough to cause sufficient current through the muscles or hair. The minimum current a human can feel is thought to be about 1 milliampere (mA). The current may cause tissue damage or fibrillation if it is sufficiently high. Death caused by an electric shock is referred to as electrocution. Generally, currents approaching 100 mA are lethal if they pass through sensitive portions of the body. 
The perception of electric shock can be different depending on the voltage, duration, current, path taken, frequency, etc. Current entering the hand has a threshold of perception of about 5 to 10 mA (milliampere) for DC and about 1 to 10 mA for AC at 60 Hz. Shock perception declines with increasing frequency, ultimately disappearing at frequencies above 15 to 20 kHz.
Heating due to resistance can cause extensive and deep burns. Voltage levels of 500 to 1000 volts tend to cause internal burns due to the large energy (which is proportional to the duration multiplied by the square of the current multiplied by resistance) available from the source. Damage due to current is through tissue heating.
A low-voltage (110 or 230 V), 50 or 60-Hz AC current through the chest for a fraction of a second may induce ventricular fibrillation at currents as low as 60 mA. With DC, 300 to 500 mA is required. If the current has a direct pathway to the heart (e.g., via a cardiac catheter or other kind of electrode), a much lower current of less than 1 mA (AC or DC) can cause fibrillation. If not immediately treated by defibrillation, fibrillations are usually lethal because all the heart muscle cells move independently. Above 200 mA, muscle contractions are so strong that the heart muscles cannot move at all.
Current can cause interference with nervous control, especially over the heart and lungs. Repeated or severe electric shock which does not lead to death has been shown to cause neuropathy.
When the current path is through the head, it appears that, with sufficient current, loss of consciousness almost always occurs swiftly. (This is borne out by some limited self-experimentation by early designers of the electric chair and by research from the field of animal husbandry, where electric stunning has been extensively studied.)
One major corporation found that up to 80 percent of its electrical injuries involve thermal burns due to arcing faults. The arc flash in an electrical fault produces the same type of light radiation from which electric welders protect themselves using face shields with dark glass, heavy leather gloves, and full-coverage clothing. The heat produced may cause severe burns, especially on unprotected flesh. The blast produced by vaporizing metallic components can break bones and irreparably damage internal organs. The degree of hazard present at a particular location can be determined by a detailed analysis of the electrical system, and appropriate protection worn if the electrical work must be performed with the electricity on.
Other issues affecting lethality are frequency, which is an issue in causing cardiac arrest or muscular spasms, and pathway—if the current passes through the chest or head there is an increased chance of death. From a main circuit or power distribution panel the damage is more likely to be internal, leading to cardiac arrest.
The comparison between the dangers of alternating current and direct current has been a subject of debate ever since the War of Currents in the 1880s. DC tends to cause continuous muscular contractions that make the victim hold on to a live conductor, thereby increasing the risk of deep tissue burns. On the other hand, mains-magnitude AC tends to interfere more with the heart's electrical pacemaker, leading to an increased risk of fibrillation. AC at higher frequencies holds a different mixture of hazards, such as RF burns and the possibility of tissue damage with no immediate sensation of pain. Generally, higher frequency AC current tends to run along the skin rather than penetrating and touching vital organs such as the heart due to the skin effect. While there will be severe burn damage at higher voltages, it is normally not fatal.
It is sometimes suggested that human lethality is most common with alternating current at 100–250 volts; however, death has occurred below this range, with supplies as low as 32 volts. Danger increase dramatically with voltages over 250 volts. Shocks above 3300 volts are often fatal, with those above 11000 volts being usually fatal.
Electrical discharge from lightning tends to travel over the surface of the body causing burns and may cause respiratory arrest.
The voltage necessary for electrocution depends on the current through the body and the duration of the current. Using Ohm's law, Voltage = Current × Resistance, we see that the current drawn depends on the resistance of the body. The resistance of our skin varies from person to person and fluctuates between different times of day. In general, dry skin is a poor conductor that may have a resistance of around 100,000 Ω, while broken or wet skin may have a resistance of around 1,000 Ω.
There were 550 electrocutions in the US in 1993, which translates to 2.1 deaths per million inhabitants. At that time, the incidence of electrocutions was decreasing. Electrocutions in the workplace make up the majority of these fatalities. From 1980–1992, an average of 411 workers were killed each year by electrocution.
Electric shock is also used as a medical therapy, under carefully controlled conditions:
Electric shocks have been used as a method of torture, since the received voltage and amperage can be controlled with precision and used to cause pain while avoiding obvious evidence on the victim's body. Such torture usually uses electrodes attached to parts of the victim's body. Another method of electrical torture is stunning with an electroshock gun such as a cattle prod or a taser (provided a sufficiently high voltage and non-lethal current is used in the former case).
The US Army is known to have used electrical torture during World War II. An extensive fictional depiction of such torture is included in the 1966 book The Secret of Santa Vittoria by Robert Crichton. During the Vietnam War, electric shock torture is said to have been used by both the Americans and Vietnamese. A scene of electrical torture in the American Deep South is included in the 1980 Robert Redford film Brubaker. Amnesty International published an official statement that Russian military forces in Chechnya tortured local women with electric shocks by connecting electric wires to their bra straps. Examples in popular modern culture are the electric torture of Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon and John Rambo in Rambo: First Blood Part II. Japanese serial killer Futoshi Matsunaga used electric shocks for controlling his victims. In the 2008 movie Taken electical torture was used as well.
Advocates for the mentally ill and some psychiatrists such as Thomas Szasz have asserted that electroconvulsive therapy is torture when used without a bona fide medical benefit against recalcitrant or non-responsive patients. See above for ECT as medical therapy. These same arguments and oppositions apply to the use of extremely painful shocks as punishment for behavior modification, a practice that is openly used only at the Judge Rotenberg Institute.
Electric shock delivered by an electric chair is sometimes used as an official means of capital punishment in the United States, although its use has become rare in recent times. Although the electric chair was at one time considered a more humane and modern execution method than hanging, shooting, poison gassing, the guillotine, etc., it has now been replaced in countries which practice capital punishment by lethal injections. Modern reporting has claimed that it sometimes takes several shocks to be lethal, and that the condemned person may actually catch fire before the process is complete. The brain is always severely damaged and inactivated.
Electric shocks are sometimes used for comedic value in the media. Notable uses are in Home Alone 2,3 and Problem Child 2.