Systematic review of civilian intravascular ballistic embolism reports during the last 30 years

Anderson H. Kuo, Alessandro E. Gregorat, Carlos S. Restrepo, Sandhya Vinu-Nair

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Background: Intravascular ballistic embolization is a rare complication of missile injury. Because of its rarity, much remains to be known about its presentation, pathophysiology, complications, and management. In this study, we analyze case reports of ballistic embolization in the last 30 years and available cases from our institution to determine the likely patient, the nature of the embolization, the possible complications, and a general management strategy. Methods: A PubMed search was performed in search of missile embolization cases from 1988 to 2018 in the English language, including only cases of intravascular emboli. Cases resulting from combat and explosive devices were excluded. In addition, five cases from our institution were included in the analysis. Results: A total of 261 cases were analyzed. The most common presentation was that of a young man (reflecting the demographics of those sustaining gunshot wound injuries) with injury to the anterior torso from a single gunshot wound. Venous entry was most common, most often through large-caliber vessels. There was roughly equal involvement of the right and left circulation. Left circulation emboli were frequently symptomatic, with ischemia being the most frequent sequela. In contrast, a right circulation embolus was rarely associated with significant complications. Conclusions: Despite its rarity, ballistic embolization should be considered in gunshot injury with known large-vessel injury when an exit wound is not identified. In particular, signs of ischemia distant from the injury site warrant timely investigation to maximize tissue salvageability. We present a management strategy model for consideration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)298-306.e6
JournalJournal of vascular surgery
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2019


  • Atypical emboli
  • Bullet emboli
  • Bullet embolism
  • Bullet migration
  • Intravascular foreign body

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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