This Is What Happens to Your Body When You Get Shot By a Gun

It’s no secret America is home to many gun owners. According to Pew Research Center, over a third of Americans say there’s a gun either in their household or they have one themselves. And while many people are responsible firearm owners and know how to properly handle their equipment, we know you’re still wondering what happens if things get out of hand.

So, what do you do if you get shot? And what exactly goes on inside your body? We’re here to tell you everything that occurs if you’re faced with this situation.

Bullets travel at the speed of 900 miles per hour

A gold bullet seen on a white table.

Bullets travel shockingly quick. | iStock.com

First, it’s important to understand just how fast a bullet really is. Lifehacker explains when you get shot, your body absorbs all of that momentum — which means a 900 mile-per-hour speeding bullet is entering your body if you’re shot by the average handgun. For this reason, when you’re hit, it’s not just the direct path of the bullet you need to worry about. The speed alone is enough to cause a large expanded cavity in its wake, which can also harm your organs even if they’re not hit directly.

The damage depends on the location

A group of bullet shown on top of a table.

Bullets can cause a lot of damage. | Peter_Cho/iStock/Getty Images

As trauma surgeon Dr. David Newman tells The Trace, “When you’re shot in the head, you at least lose consciousness; there’s certainly less suffering.” The same cannot be said for a gunshot wound to the abdomen, back, groin, or neck, as you can suffer from these injuries for hours before passing away.

With that said, it’s not necessarily better to be shot in an extremity over the head or chest. Wired explains you have plenty of big arteries and veins in your arms and legs that need to stay intact for you to stay alive.

Your body brings more blood to your core

Medical team preparing equipment for surgery.

Your body goes into emergency mode to protect itself. | Hin255/iStock.com

While your body certainly can’t anticipate the trauma of a gunshot wound, it does have some defenses in line to help. Wired explains when you start losing blood rapidly, your body prioritizes where the blood goes as long as the wound is, for the most part, covered.

Your body sends blood to your core to protect vital organs during this type of trauma. This is helpful to a point, but since the extent of a gunshot wound can only be fully assessed by a surgeon, fatal hemorrhaging can still occur inside or outside of the body rapidly.

The shot can change direction inside the body

Entrance of an emergency room with red signs.

Living with the effects of a wound is never easy. | iStock.com

When you get shot, the bullet doesn’t take a straight trajectory, which makes the wound extremely difficult to treat. The New York Times explains this is why shootings involving assault rifles are particularly deadly. The bullets don’t enter the body cleanly — they ricochet, fragment, and expand inside the body, which destroys the tissue it touches and the surrounding area.

If you survive a gunshot wound, this means you may face paralysis from spinal damage, colostomy bags from intestinal perforations, or amputation from infection. For many people, the wound itself isn’t the problem — it’s the lifetime of complications afterward.

First thing’s first: Stop the bleeding

A hospital bed seen on a blue floor.

Stopping the bleeding is key while you wait for responders. | iStock.com

If you’re ever in a situation where you’re hit with a bullet, keep calm and stop the bleeding. Lifehacker explains a lot of your survival comes down to luck, but if you’re still conscious, apply pressure to the wound as much as possible. Even if your wound doesn’t appear that bad from the outside, you could have internal hemorrhaging that can cause just as much damage. Look for discoloration or swelling in this instance. And if its a limb that’s hit, make a tourniquet and tie it tightly about two to four inches above the wound.

The type of gun matters a great deal, too

Guns and bullets laid out on a table.

The type of gun can make a huge difference. | iStock.com

Not all gunshots create the same amount of damage, as Dr. Newman explains. As stated before, assault weapons are the most deadly because of the way they’re designed to shatter and destroy everything in their path. The wound can be up to four times as big as one you would see from a handgun.

If you have a bone that’s shot with a standard handgun, there will be a break and perhaps some displacement. With a high-muzzle weapon, the bone is usually completely shattered into microscopic pieces that need to be immediately removed from the body. Even a shotgun wound doesn’t necessarily do as much damage.

Most of the trouble happens in the emergency room

An emergency responder seen driving past a street.

Once in an emergency room, you’ll have all the support and resources you need. | iStock.com

If you make it to the ER when you’re shot, you actually have a pretty good chance of surviving. But for many, that’s also where the trouble merely begins.

Trauma surgeon Amy Goldberg tells HuffPost there are plenty of times when a lodged bullet can actually stay in place as long as the bleeding and injuries are contained. But even after extremely painful and extensive surgeries, life-threatening complications afterwards can occur, and many of the patients have to stay in the hospital for months on end just to somewhat recover. Goldberg recounts one case in particular, where 14 surgeries total were performed due to the damage of one gunshot wound.