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Gunshot Wound to the Chest
A gunshot wound (GSW) to the chest
may cause damage to your heart, lungs, esophagus, ribs, or major blood vessels.
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.
Seek care immediately if:
- 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.
- You feel weak, dizzy, or faint.
Contact your healthcare provider if:
- 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.
Treatment for a minor GSW to the chest:
A minor GSW is diagnosed after an x-ray, ultrasound, CT, or MRI, and a physical exam by your healthcare provider. 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 may clean your wound and close it with stitches or staples.
Treatment for a major GSW to the chest:
may depend on how severe the damage is. You may need surgery or other procedures to treat complications of a GSW.
You may need any of the following:
- Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask your how to take this medicine safely.
- Antibiotics may be given to help treat or prevent an infection caused by bacteria.
- NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
- Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him or her if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.
- Do breathing exercises as directed. Take a deep breath and hold the breath as long as you can. Then push the air out of your lungs with a deep, strong cough. Put any sputum that you have coughed up into a tissue and throw it away. Take 10 deep breaths in a row every hour that you are awake, even during the night. Remember to follow each deep breath with a cough.
- 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 GSW. 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 elevated on pillows. This may make breathing more comfortable.
- Care for your wound as directed. Remove your bandage before showering unless your healthcare provider tells you not to. Carefully wash the wound with soap and water. Dry the area and put on new, clean bandages as directed. Change your bandages when they get wet or dirty. Monitor your wound for signs of infection such as redness, swelling, or pus.
- If you have an open wound, do not shower or get your wound wet. Your healthcare provider will tell you when your wound can get wet. Change the packing and bandage as directed. You may need to clean or rinse your wound each time you change the packing. Wash your hands before removing packing and again before placing new packing. Ask your healthcare provider how to care for your open wound.
- Negative pressure wound therapy (NPWT) uses a machine called a wound vac, wound vacuum, or pump to help with wound healing. Suction from the machine removes excess drainage from your wound and pulls wound edges closer together. NPWT promotes healthy tissue growth by increasing blood flow to your wound. NPWT also reduces bacteria that causes infections. You and your healthcare providers will be taught about your specific NPWT machine, alarms, and dressing changes.
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. There are treatments available to help you.
Follow up with your doctor as directed:
Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.
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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.
Learn more about Gunshot Wound to the Chest (Ambulatory Care)
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