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Gunshot Wound to the Abdomen

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

How are injuries from a GSW diagnosed?

A gunshot wound (GSW) to your abdomen may cause damage to your liver, stomach, intestines, colon, or spine. It may also cause damage to your kidneys, bladder, or other structures in your abdomen. Your healthcare provider will examine your body to check for injury. He or sThey will look to see if there is an entrance and exit wound from the bullet. You may need any of the following tests to diagnose the damage caused by your GSW:

  • An x-ray, ultrasound, CT, or MRI may show damage to your heart, lungs, spine, abdominal organs, or blood vessels. It may also show where the bullet is. You may be given contrast liquid to help your organs or blood vessels show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • Blood and urine tests will show infection and kidney function, and give healthcare providers information about your overall condition.
  • An endoscopy may show damage to your esophagus, stomach, or small intestines. Small damages may be repaired during an endoscopy.
  • Surgery may be needed to find damage or where you are bleeding from.

How is a minor GSW treated?

A GSW may be minor if it does not go deep into your skin or damage any of your organs. Your healthcare provider may or may not remove the bullet. He or sThey may clean your wound and close it with stitches or staples.

How is a severe GSW treated?

You may need any of the following:

  • Medicines may be given to treat pain and prevent infection. You may be given a tetanus shot. Tetanus is a severe infection caused by bacteria. Tell your healthcare provider if you have had the tetanus vaccine or a tetanus booster within the last 5 years.
  • A blood transfusion may be given if you have bled heavily from your GSW.
  • IV fluids may be given to prevent dehydration and increase blood flow to major organs.
  • A nasogastric tube may be inserted to remove air, fluid, or blood from your stomach. A nasogastric (NG) tube is a long, thin, flexible tube inserted through your nose and down into your stomach or small intestine.
  • An endotracheal tube may be inserted to help protect your airway and help you breathe. An endotracheal (ET) tube is a hollow plastic tube that is placed in your trachea through your mouth. The trachea is also called the windpipe or airway. The ET tube is attached to a machine called a respirator. A respirator gives you oxygen and breathes for you when you cannot breathe on your own.
    Endotracheal Tube
  • Surgery may be needed to repair damage to organs or blood vessels. It may also be needed to clean your GSW or remove the bullet. Your healthcare provider can close your GSW with stitches or staples, or leave it open. Your GSW may need to be left open to allow swelling to decrease and tissues to heal.

How can I care for myself after a GSW to the abdomen?

  • Take short walks. Walk two to three times per day. This may help prevent blood clots and help you heal faster.
  • Do not lift anything heavy. Heavy lifting may place too much stress on your wound. Ask your healthcare provider how much weight you can lift.
  • Sleep in a comfortable position. Do not lie on your injured side. Sleep with your head propped up on pillows. This may make breathing more comfortable.
  • Use a pillow when coughing or moving. Press a pillow gently against your wound when you need to cough or move. This may decrease your pain.
  • Perform wound care as directed. Remove your dressing before showering unless your healthcare provider tells you not to. Do not soak your GSW. Let your wound air dry. Apply a clean bandage as directed. Change your bandage if it becomes dirty or wet. Monitor your wound for signs of infection such as redness, swelling, or pus.
  • Get support. It is normal to have difficult and unexpected feelings after a GSW. You may have feelings such as anger, depression, fear, or anxiety. You may have nightmares or continue to think about what has happened. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have any of these feelings. Treatments are available to help you.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • You feel lightheaded, short of breath, and have chest pain.
  • You cough up blood.
  • You have trouble breathing.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Blood soaks through your bandage.
  • Your wound comes apart.
  • Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.
  • You are vomiting blood or what looks like coffee grounds.
  • Your abdomen is larger than normal, firm, and very painful.
  • You have blood in your urine.
  • You feel weak, dizzy, or faint.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • Your wound is red, swollen, or draining pus.
  • You have nausea or are vomiting.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

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