How to Stop Bleeding During an Emergency

Slowing or stopping severe bleeding can save a limb or a life

Stop the Bleed training includes use of tourniquet.

Slowing or stopping severe bleeding can save a limb or a life

Whether from a bullet wound or other traumatic injury, severe blood loss can kill in just five minutes. However, one-fifth of trauma deaths — the leading cause of death for Americans under age 46 — could be prevented by stanching the bleeding. That’s why Scripps doctors support the national Stop the Bleed training campaign.

Supported by the American College of Surgeons, the Department of Homeland Security and numerous police departments, the training program aims to teach bystanders how to properly place pressure on a wound or apply a tourniquet in an emergency. Someday, kits with tourniquets and wound dressings might be found alongside defibrillators and first aid kits.

“Attention to traumatic injury is important. It will save lives,” says Vishal Bansal, MDtrauma surgery director at Scripps Mercy Hospital San Diego.

Stopping bleeding can buy valuable time until emergency medical personnel arrive. Bystanders who know how to control bleeding from a serious injury can help buy such time until medical help arrives.

Though the impetus behind Stop the Bleed was the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and the proliferation of other active shooter situations across the country, these techniques may prove critical in numerous other settings, says Walter Biffl, MD, trauma medical director at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla.

“It’s not just for those horrific shooting events. Knowing these maneuvers can be helpful in the home or if you’re driving. You can potentially save a life,” Dr. Biffl says.

First steps

To stop bleeding in an emergency, first check if it’s safe to help the injured person. If there is no danger, move them to safety.

If the bleeding is severe from a large wound, act fast. Call 911 or ask someone to call for help. When calling 911, put them on speakerphone so they can guide you through what to do.

Assessing the wound

  • Look for the source of the bleeding.
  • Check for injuries that are causing blood to gather in one spot.
  • Check if there is a first aid kit for emergencies.

Applying pressure

Apply direct pressure to the wounded area. Use a heavy gauze pad if available or clean cloth. It could be a shirt or a towel. Pressing down will help the blood clot and stop the bleeding.

If blood soaks through the first cloth, do not remove it. Put a new one on every 10 minutes and press down firmly until the bleeding stops or help arrives.

To stop heavy bleeding from an arm or leg, raise it above the heart. Once the bleeding stops, wrap a cloth or gauze around the wound without cutting off blood flow.

When to use a tourniquet

Only use a tourniquet for serious arm or leg injuries with a lot of bleeding that doesn’t stop with pressure. A tourniquet is a band or cord tied around a limb, usually above a wound, to stop blood flow.

Applying a tourniquet correctly is important to stop bleeding in emergencies like car accidents or gunshot wounds. It must be placed and tightened properly to work effectively.

Tourniquets are easier to find and use now. Commercial tourniquets work better than homemade ones, but in an emergency, a makeshift tourniquet can still save a life.

To make a tourniquet, use a bandage or cloth that is 2-3 inches wide. Wrap it around the limb, overlapping it. Use a rod or stick to tighten it.

If a tourniquet is not available, pack the wound with gauze and press down on it as hard as you can until help arrives.

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