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Lead toxicity due to retained intracranial bullet fragments: illustrative case

Daniel M. Aaronson, Ahmed J. Awad, and Hirad S. Hedayat


Lead toxicity (plumbism) secondary to retained lead bullet fragments is a rare complication in patients with gunshot wounds. To the authors’ knowledge, there has been no definitive case reported of lead toxicity due to retained intracranial bullet fragments.


The authors reported the case of a 23-year-old man who presented after being found down. Computed tomography scanning of the head revealed bullet fragments within the calvaria adjacent to the left transverse sinus. During follow-up, he developed symptoms of plumbism with paresthesias in his bilateral hands and thighs, abdominal cramping, labile mood, and intermittent psychosis. Plumbism was confirmed with sequentially elevated blood lead levels (BLLs). The patient opted for surgical removal of the bullet fragments, which led to reduction in BLLs and resolution of his symptoms.


Although rare, lead toxicity from retained intracranial bullet fragments should be considered in patients who have suffered a gunshot wound to the head and have symptoms of lead toxicity with elevated BLLs. For safe and accessible intracranial bullet fragments in patients with plumbism, surgical intervention may be indicated.