Gunshot wound to the chest

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A gunshot wound to the chest cavity is considered dangerous. Injuries to the chest can be a challenge to treat due to the vital organs such as the heart, lungs and surrounding structures including the major blood vessels.

A gunshot wound to the chest involves penetration of the bullet that travels in a projectile path after released from a firearm. As the bullet strikes the chest, it perforates the tissue and moves into the bones or the muscle wall. The degree and severity of the injury depends on the type of bullet and firearm, position and distance of the individual as well as the projectile path and tissues involved.

Close look on penetrating chest injuries from a gunshot wound

Chest injuries from a gunshot wound
A sucking chest wound can cause chest pain, dyspnea and diminished breathing.

When it comes to a gunshot wound to the chest, the bullet can cause an entry and exit wound and the possibility of injuries tends to vary. The injuries are likely to cause medium to high velocity damage depending on the type of weapon used.

  • An open wound in the chest are due to a large-sized injury. These are exposed and draw in air which increases the risk for a collapsed lung.
  • Fractured ribs can occur if a bullet struck the rib
  • A gunshot wound can hit the lungs or pleura. This is a common injury where there is a high risk for internal bleeding and infection.

Remember that the site of injury is vital and can be used as a basis for emergency care.


A gunshot wound to the chest can cause rapid deterioration of the condition which is why prompt assessment and emergency care must be done. It is vital to check the ABCs (airway, breathing, circulation).

The individual might have rapid breathing, using the accessory breathing muscles, anxiety and stridor if airway obstruction is present. Other essential signs to note include the breath sounds, intensity and location of pain, mental status, level of alertness, pulse and respiratory rate, confusion, blood pressure and cyanosis.

  • A sucking chest wound can cause chest pain, dyspnea and diminished breathing. This requires immediate care to prevent hypoxia.
  • Open wounds should be covered with sterile dressings to prevent the entry of air. The insertion of a chest tube is done and might be followed by chest wall surgery.

More Information / Disclaimer

The information posted on this page on a gunshot wound to the chest is for learning purposes only. Learn to recognize and manage chest injuries from a gunshot wound by taking a standard first aid course with our training providers.

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The information posted on this page is for educational purposes only.
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