Gunshot Wounds: How to Treat 4 Types

Important Caution. Please Read This!

Use the information on this site AT YOUR OWN RISK, and read the disclaimer.

Subscribe for Free!

Never miss a post or update.

BONUS: Right now, you'll also receive "The Survival Doctor's Ultimate Emergency Medical Supplies" report—FREE!

We respect your email privacy.

 Subscribe in a reader

Find The Survival Doctor on FacebookFollow The Survival Doctor on TwitterFollow Me on PinterestFollow me on GoodreadsSubscribe to me on YouTube

This survival-medicine website provides general information, not individual advice. Most scenarios assume the victim cannot get expert medical help. Please see the disclaimer.

How to Treat 4 Types of Gunshot Wounds (From One Shot?)

Bullet casing

Bullet casing.

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

A paramedic told me that when she was in training, a patient came in who had been shot in the right upper chest. They ended up finding the bullet not in the back, not even in the other side of the chest, but way down in the right butt cheek, pushing against the skin.

In my last post, I covered general gunshot-wound treatment—the basics for survival situations when you can’t get to a doctor. Now, I’ll go into more detail for specific wounds.

As I said in the first post, one bullet can cause multiple injuries—both internal and external. Even if you can’t get expert treatment right away, you need to get it as soon as you can. There are some lifesaving things I don’t cover here that you just can’t do outside a hospital.

Signs of Internal Bleeding

Since you can’t see all the bleeding, it’s important to note the initial vital signs. Warning signs of internal bleeding include:

  • Decreasing alertness
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Weak pulse
  • Lowering blood pressure, or faster and faster pulse.
Important Note

These treatments for gunshot wounds are complicated and require advanced knowledge. I can’t cover everything in a blog post. (I’ll be writing about gunshot wounds in a future book.)

I’ve tried to give you a good overview so you have the best chance to save a life, but as always, my blog isn’t meant to be your sole source of information.

Someone with internal bleeding is probably not going to survive without rapid transfer to a medical facility.

For a Gunshot Wound in the Head

Think about: the airway.


  1. Attempt to control the bleeding with direct pressure as best you can (no tourniquets around the neck).
  2. Make sure the blood doesn’t choke the person. You can have a conscious person sit up and lean forward, or turn an unconscious person on their side and bend the top knee forward to keep them that way.
  3. If you believe a carotid artery (that large artery on either side of the neck that supplies the brain) is nicked, you can apply soft direct pressure, and include an occlusive dressing. (See the box to the right.)
How to Make an Occlusive Dressing out of a Driver’s License

For an open, or “sucking,” chest wound, you want to keep air from getting in but also let excess air escape.

One makeshift way to do this is to lay a driver’s license or plastic wrap on the wound. When the diaphragm contracts and pulls in air (the same mechanism that makes us breathe), the vaccuum will suck the object onto the wound. But if air needs to escape, it can easily push the object up.

You could also use Vaseline gauze or put petroleum jelly on gauze. No petroleum jelly? Try any type of ointment or even honey.

The victim needs other treatment, such as a chest tube, right away. The occlusive dressing is just a temporary treatment to keep the situation from getting worse.

Learn how to treat other wounds when there is no doctor in The Survival Doctor’s Guide to Wounds.

For a Gunshot Wound in the Chest

Think about: air sucking, spine injury.


  1. Open chest wounds are also nicknamed sucking chest wounds because they suck air in and can lead to a collapsed lung. You can help stop the sucking by closing the open wound with an occlusive dressing.
  2. Remember the spine is also included in the back of the chest. Be very careful about movement of these victims. You want to keep them as still as possible and not damage the spinal cord.
  3. If the heart, the lungs, the spine, or a large blood vessel is damaged, there’s not much you can do outside getting immediate expert medical care.

For a Gunshot Wound in the Abdomen

Think about: organ protection.


  1. If the wound is open and you can see the intestines, find a moist, sterile dressing to place on top of the wound (to protect the organs).
  2. If the intestines are ripped open, the victim needs immediate medical care. If they don’t bleed to death, they’ll likely die of the coming severe infection.
  3. The victim should take nothing at all by mouth until the pain lets up, and then wait a day or two. This is obviously a difficult situation, but this step is very important and a time when a slow drip of IV fluids would be useful.
leg and arm arteries

If an arm wound won’t stop bleeding despite direct pressure to the wound and elevation, press on the brachial artery around the place where the arrow in the left picture is pointing (below the armpit). Do this by grabbing underneath the person’s arm, wrapping your fingers to the artery (inner arm), and pressing firmly on it with your fingers. You’ll know you probably have it right when the bleeding slows down. If it’s still not controlled, try pressure nearer to the heart.

Here’s a trick to try it out now: Get a partner, and find the person’s radial pulse (in the wrist on the thumb side). Then grab the upper arm as described above. You should feel the pulse stop. Only do this for a couple of seconds, of course, since you’re stopping blood flow.

For a leg wound that won’t stop bleeding, apply pressure to the femoral artery, shown in the picture on the right. The best place to do this is in the middle of the bend between the front of leg and the hip. (This is not the place where the arrow is pointing; it’s above it.)


For a Gunshot Wound in the Arms or Legs

Think about: bones.


  1. Direct pressure, elevation, pressure bandage—in that order. Elevate the wound above the heart, and apply a pressure bandage. Then if it’s still bleeding, take your fingers and apply pressure to the brachial artery for the arm or the femoral artery for the leg. (See the box to the right.)
  2. If all else fails in an extremity, go to a tourniquet. (It may come down to “lose a limb or lose a life.” See The Survival Doctor’s Guide to Wounds for dos and don’ts of tourniquet use.)
  3. If the area is rapidly swelling, that’s a sign of internal bleeding. Also, consider that a bone might have been injured, even shattered. If you suspect this, the area needs to be splinted.

For a Superficial Wound

If the gunshot wound is superficial, clean it as much as you can and follow the steps in “Puncture Wounds” in my e-book The Survival Doctor’s Guide to Wounds. Start antibiotics when you’re finished taking care of the wounds.

One More Thing: What About the Bullet?

In most circumstances, you don’t want to remove an implanted bullet. It’s almost impossible to find, and it may actually be corking up a big blood vessel.

Thousands of military members live daily with shrapnel in their bodies. Unless there’s initial infection from the wound itself, the body adapts to most metal without much serious problem.

Gunshot wounds can run the gamut. Some people are too severely injured to save. Get expert treatment as soon as possible.

(Subscribe to updates below.)

  • Subscribe for Free!
    Never miss a post or update.

    BONUS: You'll also receive "The Survival Doctor's Ultimate Emergency Medical Supplies" report—FREE!

    We respect your email privacy.

Artery photos by Rob Swatski, assistant professor of biology, Harrisburg Area Community College – York Campus, York, PA. Email: [email protected]

  • Pingback: Shooting Someone | More than Scribbles

  • Cristi

    My daughters dad was shot in the back and the bullet was left in due to the doctors decision. Now the bullet is poking through his chest , ripping his skin, draining fluid. They said that in time the bullet will come out. Is this part of the NORMAL process or should he see the doctor to see about getting it removed?

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      See a doctor. They’ll probably want to remove it now.

  • Pingback: Aspirin and Bleeding: How Much It Takes, How Long It Lasts

  • Nick

    Could Quick Clot be useful in a gunshot situation?

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Definitely. But only to areas you can reach, not the internal injuries deep in the chest, abdomen, or head.

  • Raymond Latvala

    could Coiloded Silver be used on the wound its self or the cream?

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH


  • Pingback: Survival Emergencies – What To Do In Case A Patient Suffers From Gunshot Wound

  • Pingback: Duct Tape 911 - DIY Medical Care for Cruisers and Preppers - TIDAL LIFE

  • Steve

    My wife leaves bullets in all the time. If the patient requests removal she usually informs them that the Detroit Police Department needs to be present to take custody of the bullet for evidence. Or she tells them we could just leave it in there and it will just encapsulate itself off. The always opt for the latter.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks, Steve. I assume your wife is a doctor?

  • raina

    If a man is shot in the chest, more specifically the heart, what possible injuries could he sustain without dying? And what other internal organs in the chest area could also potentially suffer/be affected? I’ve been trying to find a detailed description of the anatomy of the damage that could be done and the process of the surgery as well, but I can’t find a lot of direct information.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      If a bullet penetrates the heart, it’s highly unlikely the man will survive unless he were to have immediate surgery. A bullet could hit a lung and collapse it. It could damage a blood vessel (aorta and others) and cause bleeding. It could hit the spine and cause paralysis. It could hit the esophagus or stomach. Portions of the liver, spleen, and large intestine are underneath the rib cage.

      • raina

        Thank you so much for answering. If it’s not too much trouble, could you elaborate further on what would be done concerning injury to an aorta then? For example, if the bullet nicked the blood vessel? And if so, what events would follow? I apologize for the bombardment, but I’m an aspiring novelist and I wish to make the situation I’m attempting to create as believable as possible.

        • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

          If you nicked the aorta you would bleed to death unless you had immediate surgery to repair the wound.

  • Amy

    What if the bullet is on the shoulder blade? Can you take the bullet out? And how would you treat that?

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      All gunshot wounds are different but, to me, the least worry is getting the bullet out. You would apply pressure for the bleeding and worry the bullet broke the shoulder blade increasing risk of serious bone infection. If you could not get to expert help, you would clean the wound as thoroughly as you can squirting in water (see my post on cleaning a wound) and start on antibiotics as soon as possible. You’d probably put the arm on the injured side in a sling. After all of that, if you feel the bullet and think you could easily get it out, you could try, but if you dig around too much without a sterile environment, you run the risk of contaminating the wound even more and causing more damage to the surrounding tissue.