Gunshot injury

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]


A gunshot injury occurs when an individual is shot by a bullet or other type of projectile from a firearm. Gunshot injuries cause direct injury through the tearing, cutting and abrasion of tissue in ways similar to other penetrating injuries, and the shattering of bone and organs and other damage can be similar to that caused by blunt force trauma.

The immediate damaging effects of the bullet are typically a loss of blood, and with it, the potential for shock, an inadequate amount of blood in the circulatory system. More immediate effects can result when a bullet strikes a critical organ such as the heart or damages a component of the central nervous system such as the spine or brain. Common causes of death following gunshot injury include exsanguination, hypoxia caused by pneumothorax, heart failure and brain damage. Non-fatal gunshot wounds can result in serious disability.

The direct injuries inflicted by a bullet can then cause a wide variety of secondary effects, depending on the body systems that have been damaged, and can often result in death. A 1995 study of gunshot injuries in Oklahoma showed a 30% mortality rate.

Gunshot injuries can vary widely from case to case since the location of the injury can be in any part of the body, with wide variations in entry point. Also, the path and possible fragmentation of the bullet within the body is unpredictable. The study of the dynamics of bullets in gunshot injuries is called terminal ballistics.

Gunshot injuries are a common method of suicide and attempted suicide in countries with wide availability of firearms such as the United States; in these cases, the weapon is typically aimed at the head or heart. In countries with lower rates of gun ownership, such as the United Kingdom, gunshot injuries are a relatively uncommon form of suicide.

Attempted suicides by gunshot can result in serious permanent injuries, including continued survival with massive brain damage, paralyzation, or disfigurement.


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