Tag Archives: gunshot wound

Does a person die immediately when they’re shot once, or do they have to be shot multiple times? Because I’ve seen in movies and books that a character is shot once in a not-that-important place, and they immediately collapse. Yet I’ve seen news articles that describe a person getting shot multiple times yet they still manage to get away.

Keeping in mind, the usual disclaimer about not being a doctor; my medical knowledge being limited, and I’m going to be simplifying some of this a lot?

In general? No. Gunshot victims usually die from blood loss. This can happen pretty quickly, or it can take awhile, it all depends on what the bullet damages. But, it’s not usually an instantaneous process.

I could swear we reblogged an infographic on blood loss symptoms by volume, but all I can find right now is this.

If a bullet nicks or severs an artery, this will result in rapid blood loss and death. We’re still talking about at least a couple minutes before death. With non-vital areas, where there’s only soft tissue damage, you could be talking about bleeding out for hours.

If the bullet damages internal organs, then things get a little messier. If the bullet manages to destroy something you actually need, like the brain or heart, then you’re going to die.

That’s the simple part… here’s the part that’s slightly outside my expertise. Hydrostatic shock is where a gunshot strikes someone, and kinetic force from the gunshot is transmitted through the fluid in their body to injure other organs. I’ve seen the discussion go back and forth over the years, some people insist that hydrostatic shock can rupture internal organs and cause people to suffer lethal injuries from relatively minor wounds, and there is some support to the idea that hydrostatic shock result in minor hemorrhaging. The other side of the argument is that, while the shock wave does occur, it isn’t actually life threatening. (There’s also a contingent who’ve been waging an edit war on the wiki page claiming that hydrostatic shock doesn’t exist at all.)

The actual hydrostatic shock wave increases the more a bullet disrupts the tissue. So .45 hollow points will produce more shock than a jacketed 9mm. These can result in minor brain hemorrhaging, but this usually comes up in autopsies, meaning they probably died from getting shot, and it turns out there was additional trauma that went undiagnosed.

If I’m sounding like I don’t know if this is relevant or not, it’s because I don’t. Ignoring specialized hydrostatic shock rounds (again, like hollow points, high explosive rounds, or anti-materiel rifles), I’m not sure if hydrostatic shock actually kills people, or just slaps an extra layer of damage on an already life threatening injury.


If someone was grazed in the cheek by a bullet, nothing serious but just enough to draw blood, would it be enough to for their to go into shock? This is someone who’s never been around guns in his entire life before, just accidentally walked into this situation. If not, what would be a more plausible reaction? Thank you in advance!

Shock from physical trauma? Not really.

Psychological shock from, “oh god, they’re trying to kill me?” Yeah, that’s quite possible. Especially given that they don’t have any prior experience with guns. Though, that would be more of a panicked fight/flight response, rather than actual clinical shock.

I think we’ve mentioned before, but fight/flight is a really, really, dangerous mindset to be in when someone else has a gun. Running away is viable, but failing to actually think about what you’re doing can be fatal.


I’m not entirely sure if this falls under your jurisdiction, but I was wondering if you could tell me about the type of damage that a bullet would to to a person’s skin, is it possible to shatter a hand with a bullet or would it simply move in and out with just a little breakage, also what kind of scaring it would leave. If not, if you could point me in the direction of another source I would be much obliged.

Google Image Search will probably be the most prolific source. Just remember to bring a strong stomach. There’s a mix of actual wounds and scars available, along with tattoos, SFX makeup, and game art. Generally the most horrific stuff will be the actual wounds.

If you specify a location: “gunshot wound hand” for example, you’ll cut out a lot of the SFX stuff.

Bullet wounds can displace a lot of bone and tissue, so a shot to the hand can be a permanent injury requiring reconstructive surgery. If you’re talking about a very small caliber handgun (under 6mm), it might be possible to blow through the tissue without striking bone. (I’m genuinely not sure, it’s possible the hydrostatic shock would still break some bones in the hand.) Conversely, I don’t even want to think what buckshot would do to a hand at point blank.


Is it possible for someone to be shot and the bullet get lodged between the ribs? Would a doctor remove the bullet?

Bullets do all kinds of weird things when they connect with objects of any kind. So, while it’s not likely, it probably has happened.

And, yes, a doctor would want to remove the bullet. It can interfere with the healing process, become a potential vector for infection, and lead is still mildly toxic.


I know this is “fight write”, but would you have any basic first aid procedures or advice for someone who’s been in a fight. Basically after you’d get beaten up, how did you tend to your wounds? Also, do you know anything about treating gun wounds, or how a hospital would do so?

For most fights, you’re looking at bruises and minor cuts.

With bruises you want to wrap some ice in a towel and apply it to the injury, and let it heal on its own. Strictly speaking, bruises are minor, sub-dermal hemorrhages. There are rare cases where someone loses enough blood from bruising to die, but this is usually accompanied with massive amounts of trauma.

Also, it’s worth noting, it usually takes about five minutes for a bruise to start to show, if someone is killed within that timeframe, the bruise will not develop.

Minor cuts can be treated with peroxide or alcohol (usually rubbing alcohol, but anything over about 40 – 60 proof s work) to disinfect the wound, and then bandaged. Applying a petroleum jelly like Vaseline or Neosporin can help keep the wound clean. Strictly speaking, it doesn’t actually do anything, the stuff’s completely biologically inert (and as I recall, technically edible) but it will prevent new bacteria from getting into the injury.

More serious cuts, like knife wounds, can require surgery, as far as I know, this is just another round of disinfect the wound, and then stitched closed. If there’s internal damage, that will need to be dealt with, based on the injury sustained.

Gunshot wounds are an entirely different and very unpredictable animal. Again, I’m going to over simply here, so, apologies in advance to any doctors out there. The primary threat from any gunshot wound is bleeding to death. If the gunshot damaged an artery, then first aid involves compressing the artery to staunch the blood loss, this is a very basic, and limited stopgap. Otherwise “first aid” is getting the victim to a doctor (or veterinarian). The basic surgical techniques to deal with gunshot wounds is to repair whatever damage the doctor can, and closing up the wound. But, this can be a lot more difficult than it sounds.

I’m going to split gunshot wounds into three general categories, these aren’t official classifications, and shouldn’t be held up as holy writ; this is just an attempt to get everything out in a readable fashion: blowthroughs, ricochets, and fragmentation.

Blowthroughs, are the “best”, and most common kind of gunshot wound. These are gunshots that enter the victim, pass through them, and leave for parts unknown. If it’s a headshot, the victim is probably already dead, though, there are a few medical cases where people survived a shot to the head. Blowthroughs to the torso usually mean punctured internal organs, regardless what organ was hit; the injury will require major surgery to deal with. If it’s a hit to the limbs, and it missed the arteries, the wound will need to be sewn up, and cared for. The limb can’t be used for a couple weeks. If the bullet nicked or severed the artery, the surgeon will need to repair it, assuming they get the chance. A damaged artery can result in the victim bleeding to death in minutes. This, by the way, is what the whole “apply pressure here” cliché is referring to; first aid for an arterial hit is to apply pressure and staunch the flow of blood, so the victim can live long enough to reach a doctor.

Ricochets are cases where the bullet connects with a bone and reflects off in a new direction. This is highly dependent on the specific physics involved, but the result can be very messy. The best case scenario, a bullet will ricochet off a bone, and have a clean exit wound. This is slightly more problematic than it sounds; usually, you track the path of a bullet by checking the entrance and exit wounds, with ricochets, it can be very difficult to identify which internal organs have been injured. Worse, it’s not unheard of for bullets to start bouncing around inside the rib cage, tearing someone’s internal organs to pieces. It’s rare, but can result in irreparable internal damage.

Fragmentation refers to where the bullet breaks apart into multiple pieces. Usually this is associated with fragmentation rounds, also called dumdums, but a bullet that impacts a hard object, either bone, or something outside the body, can shatter; sending shrapnel into the victim. The shrapnel is slightly more prone to further ricochets and lodging in the body. As with ricochets, this can result in massive internal injuries that will require extensive, rapid surgery to survive.

One last note: In modern contexts, it is fairly common to get hit by multiple bullets in rapid succession, called a multiple gunshot wound (or MGW in police and paramedic reports), multiple bullets effectively multiply the damage. Because the victim is bleeding out faster, a doctor won’t have time to treat the victim before they expire, assuming they’re able to hold on long enough to get to a doctor.

If you’re writing about first aid for hand to hand, I’d actually recommend you look into first aid techniques first hand. It’s a useful skill to have, and it should be fairly easy to find a reputable group that’s teaching the basics.

You can learn far more than you want to about gunshot wounds in most forensic texts. I’m not sure where you’d find more detail on the specifics of surgery. Generally speaking finding information on specific surgical procedures, which are also accessible to a layman, is tricky.