A gunshot wound is caused when a bullet or other projectile is shot into or through the body. Gunshot wounds can cause serious injury, including:
The amount of damage depends on the location of the injury and the speed and type of bullet. Gunshot wounds to the head or body are likely to cause more damage.
Depending on the severity of your wound, you may have had surgery to:
Gunshots wounds that pass through the body without hitting major organs, blood vessels, or bone tend to cause less damage.
You may have bullet pieces that remain in your body. Often these can't be removed without causing more damage. Scar tissue will form around these remaining pieces and they shouldn't cause lasting symptoms.
Your doctor may change your dressing for you at first. Once you get the OK to change the dressing yourself:
If you have non-dissolvable stitches or staples, your doctor will remove them within 3 to 21 days. Do not pull at your stitches or try to remove them on your own.
Your doctor will let you know when it's OK to bathe after you come home. You may need to take sponge baths for several days until your wound has healed enough to shower. Keep in mind:
Being shot by a gun is traumatic. You may feel shock, fear for your safety, depression, or anger as a result. These are completely normal feelings for someone who has been through a traumatic event. These feelings are not signs of weakness. You may notice other symptoms as well, such as:
You need to care for yourself and heal emotionally as well as physically. If you feel overwhelmed by these feelings, or they last more than 3 weeks, contact your doctor. There are treatments that can help you feel better.
Call your doctor if:
You should also call your doctor if you notice signs of an infection, such as:
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Burg A, Nachum G, Salai M, Haviv B, Heller S, Velkes S, Dudkiewicz I. Treating civilian gunshot wounds to the extremities in a level 1 trauma center: our experience and recommendations. Isr Med Assoc J. 2009;11(9):546-551.
Leong M, Phillips LG. Wound Healing. In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2012:chap 7.
Mauffrey C. Management Of Gunshot Wounds To The Limbs: A Review. The Internet Journal of Orthopedic Surgery. 2005;3(1).
Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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