Can my liver protect me from a lead bullet?
September 28, 2008 8:03 PM   Subscribe

YANMD...Can my liver handle lead?

I had an accident with a firearm and now there's a bullet in my leg.

It's a .22 caliber copper jacketed lead hollow point.

The doc who checked me out in the ER said that it's not in a bad place for removing, but it's still safer to leave the bullet rather than take it out. It's sitting right in front of my femur.

I asked the doc about the lead in the bullet, and he said that any lead that goes into my system from the bullet will be taken care of by my liver.

Can my liver really handle lead? The bullet is deformed, and I'm worried about the lead.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Why don't you trust your doctor? If you have a good reason, go to a second doctor. Even somebody with an actual MD could not tell you over the Internet without pictures and x-rays of what you leg looks like.
posted by Electrius at 8:09 PM on September 28, 2008

I googled and found this. Lots of citations for you to read if you're so inclined.
posted by PercussivePaul at 8:20 PM on September 28, 2008

IANAD. From what I understand, the body will form a capsule of scar tissue around the bullet, isolating it from the rest of your system. The exception would be if the bullet or fragments of it lodge in a joint and are subjected to mechanical griding from the motion of the joint. cases of lead poisoning in this scenario have been documented.
posted by longsleeves at 8:29 PM on September 28, 2008

The amount of lead in a .22 bullet is not enough to cause you even negligible harm. I would think you would want to have the bullet removed at some point, but lead is real danger when it is breathed or ingested. I knew a guy who made his own lettering for printmaking for over 30 years and was forced to take a lead test by the city of San Francisco and found the amount was so small it was not medically deemed a risk.
posted by parmanparman at 8:36 PM on September 28, 2008

Assuming you didn't pick this up in a close encounter with Sigourney Weaver your blood is about pH 7.4. At that pH a chunk of lead should sit there, pretty much unchanged, for a couple lifetimes. Like Parmanparman said, things like lead vapor, or water soluble lead compounds like lead acetate (one of the lead based pigments they used to use) are issues because they quickly get into circulation.

So your liver can handle as much lead as this is going to be throwing at it.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:00 PM on September 28, 2008

The way your liver "handles it" is by storing it. That's also what your body does with mercury and most other heavy metals. (Some of them end up in your bones.) The danger is when the quantity builds up to the point where it begins to damage the liver, and in adults that requires quite a lot. Also, as mentioned above, the lead in the bullet isn't chemically very active, and it won't be seeing a lot of blood circulation because of scarring.

Basically, your doctor knows what he's talking about and you should believe him.
posted by Class Goat at 11:19 PM on September 28, 2008

I knew a guy who made his own lettering for printmaking for over 30 years and was forced to take a lead test by the city of San Francisco and found the amount was so small it was not medically deemed a risk.

My understanding is that this (depending on age) doesn't mean much - the lead test is probably a blood test. If you have been accumulating lead in small amounts over many years, it will be deposited in your bones, not accumulating in your blood. Once you reach the age when bone deposits start running the other way, and 50+ years of accumulated lead is starting to find its way into your body without the body being able to put it into bones, that's when it can become more of a problem (and more able to be detected by blood tests)
posted by -harlequin- at 11:58 PM on September 28, 2008

Your liver can handle a LOT. Including doses of lead. But not a lot and definitely NOT long-term and large doses. Treat your liver gently and please don't subject it to any heavy metals. If the harm has already been done - then it's time for DETOXIFICATION. C'est google.
posted by watercarrier at 12:47 AM on September 29, 2008

A good friend of mine had a .22 in his leg. It came within an inch or two of bone, but they left it in. He's still alive.
posted by apetpsychic at 5:42 AM on September 29, 2008

War veterans since the dawn of firearms have had lead embedded into their bodies. Its not a toxicity risk.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:06 AM on September 29, 2008

then it's time for DETOXIFICATION.

That is new age bullshit. Don't kill yourself drinking 3 gallons of water a day. Nor will an enema or green tea do anything for you.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:07 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

My personal belief is that foreign objects embedded in the body should be removed, if they can. That said, there are issues where doctors will not want to remove a bullet because it's possible to cause worse structural damage by doing so.

Get a second and a third opinion, and see how safe it is or isn't to remove.

As for the lead itself, it doesn't dissolve so easily. The only way you could be poisoned is if the lead spontaneously liquefied all at once, and that ain't gonna happen.
posted by Citrus at 11:55 AM on October 1, 2008

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