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J Oral Maxillofac Surg. 2003 May;61(5):593-603.

Elevated blood lead resulting from maxillofacial gunshot injuries with lead ingestion.

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  • 1Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Charles R Drew University of Medicine and Sciences, Los Angeles, CA 90059, USA. jmcquirter@dhs.co.la.ca.us



The purpose of this study was to identify the contribution of ingested lead particles to elevated blood lead concentrations in victims of gunshot injury to the maxillofacial region.


As part of a larger study of the effects of retained lead bullets on blood lead, a retrospective review of study findings was completed on 5 of 8 patients who sustained injuries to the maxillofacial region. These 5 patients were recruited into the larger study within 11 days of injury and showed a penetration path for the projectile that engaged the upper aerodigestive tract. All subjects were recruited from patients presenting for care of their gunshot injuries to a large inner-city trauma center with a retained bullet resulting from a gunshot injury. An initial blood lead level was measured for all recruited patients and repeated 1 to 17 weeks later. Medical history was taken along with a screening and risk factor questionnaire to determine other potential or actual sources (occupational/recreational) of lead exposure. (109)Cd K-shell x-ray fluorescence determinations of bone lead were completed to determine past lead exposure not revealed by medical history and risk factor questionnaire. Radiographs taken of the abdomen and chest, required as a part of the patient's hospital care, were retrospectively reviewed for signs of metallic fragments along the aerodigestive tract.


All 5 patients retained multiple lead pellets or fragments at the site of injury, sustained fractures of the facial bones, and showed increases in blood lead. Three of the 5 study subjects who sustained maxillofacial gunshot injuries involving the mouth, nose, or throat region showed metallic densities along the gastrointestinal tract indicative of ingested bullet fragments. Each patient with ingested bullet fragments showed rapid elevation of blood lead exceeding 25 microg/dL and sustained increases well beyond the time when all ingested fragments were eliminated. A 3-year follow-up on these 3 patients showed significantly sustained elevation of blood lead but less than that observed during the initial 6 months after injury. None of the 5 study subjects showed any evidence of metallic foreign bodies within the tracheobronchial regions indicative of aspiration.


Ingestion of lead fragments can result from gunshot injuries to the maxillofacial region and may substantially contribute to a rapid increase in blood lead level. Prompt diagnosis and elimination of ingested lead fragments are essential steps necessary to prevent lead being absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. Increased blood lead in victims after gunshot injuries must be fully evaluated for all potential sources, including recent environmental exposure, absorption of lead from any remaining bullets in body tissues, and the possibility of mobilization of lead from long-term body stores such as bone.

Copyright 2003 American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons

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