Top 8 Critical Tips for Surviving Gunshot Wounds

tips for surviving a gunshot wound

No one wants to experience a gunshot wound personally. Because gunshot wounds require immediate medical attention, it is critical to learn the top tips to stop bleeding and increase the survival rate in the unfortunate event that you or someone around you is shot.

Why Are Bullet Wounds So Dangerous?

A bullet wound is an especially dangerous injury due to the immediate and long-term damage it can cause. Some of the serious repercussions are as follows:

  1. Penetrative damage: Bullets can penetrate deep into the body's organs, muscles, and bones. This can cause internal injuries. The damage caused by a bullet in the body is less predictable than the damage caused by stabbing, which makes gunshots particularly dangerous as some of the damage may be hidden.
  2. Fragmentation: Some bullets fragment when they hit the body. This causes small pieces of shrapnel to enter into several parts of the body, causing widespread damage.
  3. Hemorrhage: Oftentimes, gunshot victims experience severe bleeding, which can lead to critical blood loss or shock if not treated quickly.
  4. Long-term consequences: Wounds can cause lasting effects on quality of life—including mental, emotional, and physical effects.

How to Survive a Bullet Wound

Surviving a bullet wound is not necessarily something you can bet on due to the vast amount of variables bullet strikes bring. However, you CAN improve the odds of a good outcome by learning these 8 critical survival tips.

Step 1 - Get Somewhere Safe

When you or another person is shot, the first thing you should do is get to a safe place. You will need to assess the situation for any ongoing threats. Next, locate possible exit routes. If there is an ongoing threat, stay low and look for areas of cover. Keep quiet and follow instructions from law enforcement. If the victim can move, help them crawl, walk, or run to a safe, covered area to rest. If the wound is due to an accidental shooting, make sure the gun is secured to avoid any further problems.

Step 2 - Call for Emergency Medical Help

Once you are in a safe spot, call medical professionals so the injured person can receive prompt medical attention. Make sure to precisely follow any instructions given by the dispatcher. Every second counts to avoid death or further injury to the victim.

Step 3 - Stop the Bleeding

Bleeding from a bullet injury can become life-threatening within seconds or minutes depending on where the wound is located on the body. This is why quick action to stop or minimize bleeding is so critical. 

In general, you want to apply direct pressure to the wound to help the blood begin to clot. Consider purchasing a bleeding control kit to have on hand for bleeding emergencies. We also have some great tips on how to stop the bleeding from a gunshot wound to keep in mind, depending on where the bullet enters the body.

Bullet Wounds on a Limb

An affected limb should be treated using a tourniquet. A tourniquet is a device that applies pressure to a limb or extremity in order to constrict blood flow. If a victim has been shot in the upper arm or you need to treat a gunshot wound to the leg, follow this procedure:

  1. Locate the bleeding.
  2. Position the tourniquet between the injury and the heart on the affected limb.
  3. Pull or twist the tourniquet tight until the bleeding stops.
  4. Secure the tourniquet in place.
  5. Record the exact time the tourniquet was secured in place.

Bullets in the Torso

Someone who has been shot in the torso can have extensive organ damage. Applying pressure using hemostatic gauze is a great option when the victim has abdominal wounds. Hemostatic gauze can be found in certain trauma kits and can also be purchased separately.

Important note: Severe organ damage from abdominal injuries can lead to organ failure and may require emergency surgery, so it’s essential to call the emergency medical services right away or send someone else to make the call while you are working to stop the bleeding.

Bullets in the Chest

Chest wounds are another critical injury that requires assistance from emergency personnel. Before the professionals arrive, try to quickly clean and dry the area around the wound, then apply a chest seal directly over the area of impact (including both entry and exit wounds). Firmly apply the chest seal to create an airtight seal. Monitor the victim closely until EMS arrives.

Gunshot Wounds to the Neck and Head

If a bullet hits the spinal cord, paralysis may happen. If at all possible, do not move a patient who has been shot in the neck or back to help prevent further possible damage to the spinal cord. Simply apply pressure directly to the neck until help arrives.

Apply firm pressure to a head wound using regular sterile gauze (not hemostatic gauze) and be sure to check that the patient is still breathing and has an open airway. Monitor vital signs and be ready to start CPR if needed.

Step 4 - Look for an Exit Wound

Both entrance and exit wounds can be treated in a similar manner:

  1. Assess the extent of the injury.
  2. Control the bleeding.
  3. Clean the wound once the bleeding has stopped.

Step 5 - Put the Victim in an Appropriate Position

Do not elevate the feet of a victim with a gunshot wound to the torso, neck, or head. Elevating the feet can cause an increase in blood flow to these areas and may aggravate the injuries.

Use the recovery position for an unconscious victim. As previously stated, do not move someone with a bullet wound to the neck or back as this may cause or worsen a spinal cord injury.

Step 6 - Watch for Signs of Shock

Severe injuries from gunshot wounds can quickly cause extreme blood loss. To help someone survive being shot, look for these signs after you control the bleeding:

  • Pale or cool, clammy skin
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Low blood pressure
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness

If the victim is experiencing any of these symptoms, seek medical care and give support until more help arrives.

Step 7 - Prevent Infection

A bullet that enters a body has the potential to bring infection from contaminants. Bullets can also fragment upon impact which increases the risk of infection due to the presence of foreign substances in the body. A bullet wound can also serve as a hub for bacterial growth due to the protective layer of missing skin or even a delay in treatment.

Prevent infection by removing debris and gently cleaning the wound with a mild soap. Please do not use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol as these products can damage the skin. Gently pat the area dry using sterile gauze or a clean cloth.

Step 8 - Rest

A gunshot injury is a traumatic event and requires rest to encourage healing. Follow the medical professional's instructions for wound care and keep all follow-up appointments.

It can be normal to experience anxiety after being shot. Don't hesitate to let your doctor or care provider know if you experience depression, anger, anxiety, or trouble sleeping. They can help you get the care you need to heal.

Gunshot Wounds Are Dangerous but Often Survivable

Bodily damage from a gunshot is a life-changing event that can affect your health and well-being for years into the future. Depending on the bullet velocity, size, and location, gunshot wounds can be serious medical emergencies. 

The good news is that many people have been saved using quick thinking and by applying these critical tips for survival. Train, prepare, get the bleeding control supplies you need to respond, and be ready to save a life.

Brian Graddon
Article written by

Brian Graddon

Brian is a former Firefighter Paramedic who also worked as a SWAT Medic, Engineer, and Captain over a 15-year career. Brian is devoted to providing life-saving information based on his first hand experience in life-saving application of tourniquets, hemostatic gauze, chest seals and other bleeding control products.

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