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Bleeding: How to Treat Different Types of Bleeding

As a child, I was fascinated with the world of ninjas. Naturally, I spent lots of time practicing various martial arts and tumbling maneuvers in and around our home. One night, I ended a particularly aggressive tumbling maneuver with a sweeping roundhouse kick that ended with my right foot accidentally shattering a glass of water.

My sisters and I were a bit shocked at the amount of blood that came shooting out of my foot. We had all experienced cuts and scrapes before, but nothing that involved a steady stream of blood with no tapering off in sight. All that I could think of doing was to use tissue after tissue to soak up the blood around the cut and prevent the blood from staining our light yellow carpet.

Most fortunately for me, my parents returned home just a few minutes after the accident, and the minute my mom saw my foot, she grabbed a large towel and put direct pressure on my still-bleeding wound.

My foot ended up being sore for about a month, and I was somewhat pale and weak for a good week or two after the accident from the amount of blood that I lost, but thankfully, everything turned out okay.

I didn't realize it then, but I had severed a relatively large vein in my foot. And as a ten-year old, my instincts did not tell me to put direct pressure on that area. In fact, I distinctly remember being scared to touch the area that the blood was flowing from; I thought that by touching that area, I would cause more damage.

The takeaway lesson: One of the most important first aid lessons we can teach our children is to apply direct pressure to any cut, especially if there is significant blood flow.

Three Main Types of Bleeding

In preparing yourself to identify and treat different types of bleeding, you must first have a good understanding of the three distinct types of bleeding that a person can experience.

Capillary Bleeding

Capillaries are the smallest blood vessels in your body; they are about as thin as the hairs on your head.

When a minor scrape or cut opens some capillaries, the bleeding is almost always very slow and small in quantity. Your body's natural clotting mechanism is able to stop most cases of capillary bleeding within seconds to minutes.

Venous Bleeding

Deep lesions have the potential to cut veins. A cut vein typically results in a steady but relatively slow flow of dark red blood.

The best way to stop most cases of venous bleeding is to put direct pressure on the wound.

Arterial Bleeding

This is the least common and most dangerous type of bleeding. It involves bright red blood that comes out in large volume, and in spurts that correspond with each beat of your heart.

In most cases of arterial bleeding, direct and extremely firm pressure on the wound is the best way of stopping it. If direct pressure is not applied, a severe arterial wound can cause you to bleed to death within a few minutes.

How to Address Severe Bleeding

1. If possible, have the bleeding person lie down and position his or her head so that it is slightly lower than the trunk. Also, try to elevate his or her legs. Taking these measures will help to increase blood flow to the brain, which will decrease the chance of fainting.

2. If possible, elevate the body part that is bleeding. Doing so will reduce blood loss because the heart will have to work against gravity to pump blood to the injured area.

3. Remove large chunks of dirt and other debris from the wound, but if there is an impaled object, do not touch it.

4. Apply firm and direct pressure to the wound. In order of preference, use a sterile bandage, a clean cloth, clothing, or your hand to apply pressure.

5. Do not stop applying firm and direct pressure to the wound until the bleeding stops. When it does stop, use adhesive tape or clothing to secure the dressing (whatever you used) in place against the wound.

6. If the bleeding does stop and starts to seep through whatever you are using to apply pressure to it, do not remove whatever you are using. Rather, apply new absorbent material on top of it.

7. Once the bleeding has stopped, do your best to immobilize the injured area and leave everything as it is until professional treatment becomes available.

Other First Aid Notes for Bleeding

1. The best treatment for a minor cut or scrape is to wash it thoroughly with water and plain soap. If possible, apply aloe or an antibiotic ointment onto the wound, and then cover with a bandage to keep it clean.

2. If a cut does not stop on its own with direct pressure for a few minutes, or it is clear that it is more serious than a minor cut or scrape, be sure to have a doctor look at it as soon as possible. Don't forget to do your best to stop the bleeding before you do anything else.

3. In the case of a puncture wound, stop the bleeding, if necessary, and visit your doctor or the hospital right away. Even if a puncture wound doesn't appear to be serious, it is important to take preventive measures to reduce your chance of experiencing an infection.

4. In the case of a blow to the head, especially either side of the head in the temple region, even if there is no bleeding, it is important to seek medical care immediately and to let the attending physician know where you were hit. Internal bleeding in the head region can be asymptomatic for the first several hours, and in some cases, can lead to death in just a day or two. All blunt injuries to the head require a thorough medical evaluation as soon as possible.

5. The vast majority of nosebleeds occur from blood vessels that line the cartilaginous septum that separates the right and left nasal chambers. To stop nosebleeds of this nature, sit or stand upright, then pinch your nose with your thumb and index finger for 5 to 10 minutes or less until the bleeding has stopped. Breathe through your mouth as you wait. If the bleeding does not stop within a reasonable time frame, it is best to seek medical care.

In summary, the most important first aid guidelines for bleeding are:

1. The number one goal should be to stop the bleeding.

2. Never remove an impaled object - let a doctor do this.

3. Whenever bleeding cannot be stopped with direct pressure in a reasonable amount of time, seek medical care as soon as possible.

4. If you experience blunt trauma to your head, chest, abdomen, or pelvis, go for a thorough medical evaluation as soon as you can to make sure that you are not experiencing internal bleeding. This is especially important if you get hit on either side of your head in the temple region.

Related Article:

When to Seek Medical Attention for a Head Injury - Understanding Epidural Hematomas


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Just a quibble with wording; in the note conerning arterial bleeding, the information given, is that where there is heavy arterial bleeding, death may result, "within minutes". I was taught that in some cases, such as a neck wound, it may take as little as eight seconds. Perhaps this is the difference, timewise, between the irrevocability of, vs. the actual, death? I was just wondering, if there could be some added benefit to stressing, even more greatly, the neccessity of responding quickly, by putting pressure on a wound, (although I think most people who are informed, will realize, they have to respond, immediately). Thank you, Dr. Kim, for your informative newsletter, its wide-ranging scope, personableness, lack of pretentiousness, its optimism, and unquestiionable depth. I've only just started reading it, really, and I'm very impressed! Thank you for making such good use of the net! -Henri Steenaart

How to cover the wound that is impaled? Should i juust cover and apply pressure in the surrounding wound and care not to touch the object impaled?

Hi Mark,
In the case of a puncture wound, or one from impaling, stop the bleeding, if necessary, and visit your doctor or the hospital right away. Even if a puncture wound doesn't appear to be serious, it is important to take preventive measures to reduce your chance of experiencing an infection.

Client Care Manager

What is the care for an arterial wound after the bleeding has been stopped?

It depends on a few different factors, including the nature of the wound, its location, and the overall health state of the patient. This is beyond the scope of self care in most cases, and the most prudent approach is to follow the advice of one's medical doctor.