11 Unsettling Facts About Surviving A Shot To The Head

In the United States, one of the major causes of traumatic brain injuries is a gunshot wound to the head. These wounds are reported to be fatal 90% of the time, and most victims don't even make it to the hospital. Those that do only have a 50% chance of getting past the emergency room.

Here's how and why a fortunate few have managed to survive a shot to the head.

  • The Type Of Gunshot Wound Can Impact Survival

    The type of gunshot wound a person receives plays a key role in their chance of survival. Research suggests that in some circumstances, people can survive a penetrating wound, one in which the bullet goes straight through the head and creates both entrance and exit wounds. If the bullet doesn't make an escape, then it's called a perforating wound.

    In these cases, a bullet lodged in the brain can migrate and cause even more damage.

  • Blood Loss Is The Number-One Killer

    Blood loss is often the main factor in deaths resulting from shots to the head since the brain's midline is home to many important blood vessels.

    There's also the risk that growing pressure from a blood clot can cause death since the brain's tissue becomes increasingly compressed.

  • A Close-Range Shot Isn't A Guaranteed Death Sentence

    According to a 2012 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 56% of male suicides involved a gun.

    While some might consider a close-range shot to be fatal in all instances, it is not a guaranteed death sentence, since aim can be an issue even when self-inflicted.

  • The Bullet Track Has To Bypass Vital Areas Of The Brain

    Each hemisphere of the brain is made up of four lobes. Fatalities are less likely when the bullet track is limited to one hemisphere and one lobe. For instance, if the bullet path goes through the right frontal lobe while staying clear of the brain stem, the most vital areas of the brain (the parts that control breathing and thinking) could be spared.

    This is essentially an upward trajectory through the forehead and out the back of the head.

  • Brain Tissue Stretches And Overshoots Its Original Position

    A bullet travels faster than the rate at which brain tissue rips. This means when a bullet moves through the brain, it is actually pushing tissues out of the way, stretching them wildly. The speed at which a bullet tears through the brain means the bullet will exit the skull before tissues even have a chance to rip.

    However, brain tissue over-stretches when it snaps back. This results in a long cavity created by the bullet, so while the brain tissue snaps back to its original position, it overshoots its normal location due to said cavity.

  • For Bullets, Shape And Size Does Matter

    Some reports indicate that bullets that are narrow maintain their shape and move at a high velocity are considered just as dangerous as large, exploding shells, but they may not cause as much damage.

    While speed can definitely kill, a high-velocity bullet (faster than 2,000 feet per second) is less likely to wobble around and cause secondary damage. It can be likened to throwing a football with a tight spiral. That said, all bullets should be considered dangerous.