Bullet emboli to the systemic and venous circulation

Surgery. 1990 Mar;107(3):239-45.


The rarity of bullet emboli leads to frequent delays in diagnosis and inadequate early management. Our recent experience with this entity is described, and 153 cases reported in the English-language literature are reviewed and summarized. The majority of cases occurs as a consequence of civilian violence among men in their 20s and 30s. Most bullet emboli follow the direction of blood flow, although 15% of venous bullets cause embolization in a retrograde manner. One in 10 arterial emboli follow a right-heart or venous injury. Arterial bullets are symptomatic in 80% of cases, venous bullets in only one third. The choice of surgical management must be individualized according to the symptoms caused by the bullet and its location in the vascular system. In general, arterial bullet emboli are removed because of symptoms or findings of acute peripheral ischemia. Arterial and venous emboli not causing symptoms should be removed according to the risk of possible displacement and further embolization. Selective intraoperative angiograms and phlebograms can precisely localize the migrating bullet and permit appropriate placement of incisions before removal.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Embolism / etiology*
  • Embolism / surgery
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Wounds, Gunshot / complications*