2011, Number 1
Basic ballistics concepts for the general surgeon and their application in the evaluation of abdominal trauma
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ABSTRACTObjective: To provide basic ballistic concepts to the General Surgeons that will allow him/her to analyze and assess adequately the intensity of the injuries that might be encountered in a patient with gunshot wounds.
Setting: Central Military Hospital, National Defense Ministry, Mexico City.
Design: Review of the literature.
Material and methods: We analyzed the definitions and concepts of internal, external, and terminal ballistics or of the effects and factors that affect the behavior of a bullet during its trajectory, which will, in consequence, modify its effects on body tissues.
Results: Kinetic energy, which corresponds to the energy released, is given by the product of mass (weight and size of the bullet) by its velocity to the square and divided by two; hence, the greater the size of a bullet, the greater will be the released energy (a bullet twice more mass than another will release twice the energy) and at a higher velocity, higher energy (a two-fold velocity increases four-times the released energy). The factors that affect the behavior of a bullet during its trajectory and that will, in consequence, modify its effects on body tissues are: velocity, profile, stability, expansion and/or fragmentation potential, and the presence of secondary impacts. Velocity is probably the most important factor in the evaluation of a gunshot wound, as this determines the trajectory of the bullet, the greater the velocity, trajectory will be straighter and if the distance is short the bullet will keep practically all its energy. Bullets are not sterile, hence it is very important to consider as contaminated any gunshot wound and to start immediately an appropriate antibiotics scheme. The only valid indications to extract a bullet would be when they are placed intracardially, intra-joints or very near to a joint and/or an important vessel.
Conclusion: The factors to be taken into acount by a surgeon to assess the potential tissular damage in cases of gunshot wounds are: type of firearm, distance at which the shot was made, the surgeon must attempt to know the site of the impact by determining the entrance orifice and the position of the victim at the time of receiving the shot. As additional factors, the number of shots must be known. In the presence of an injury, the surgeon must determine its severity by knowing the physical characteristics of the diverse tissues and their resistance to the damage.
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