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Gunshot wound to the head not a death sentence

October 27, 2016

Civilians with gunshot wounds to the head or other penetrating brain injuries have a 42% chance of surviving, according to a study of more than 400 patients at two major trauma centers.

After the 2011 shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona, critical care neurologists and trauma experts realized there was little data on survival rates among non-military victims of penetrating head wounds, which are primarily by gunshot but can also be wounds from stabbing, nail guns, and other accidental causes, said Yale’s Kevin Sheth, associate professor of neurology and neurosurgery and senior author of the research published Oct 27 in the journal Neurology.

“The survival rate was much higher than we anticipated and, consistent with other diseases in recent years, these results suggest that seemingly futile presentations may actually be a reservoir for hope,” Sheth said.

Better motor control of limbs, pupil response, and lower overall trauma score all predicted higher chances of survival, the study found. Those with self-inflicted wounds had a worse prognosis, and women tended to do better than men. Also, those who were transferred from another hospital had a better chance of survival.

“I think that it is important for doctors to be aggressive in transferring these patients to higher-level trauma centers,” Sheth said.

First author of the study is Susanne Muehlschlegel of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. Researchers from the University of Maryland Shock and Trauma Center also contributed to the study.

Primary funding for the research came from the National Institutes of Health and American Academy of Neurology.

Submitted by Catherine Corso-Romano on October 31, 2016