Bleeding: severity, treatment and when to call for help

February 7, 2020

In everyday life, the type of bleeding we encounter is simply blood oozing out of a paper cut or a small bruise. Contrary to how the excruciating pain of a papercut would make it seem, the extent of blood loss is often minor and will go away with a little  time and without any intervention. 

In more serious cases, however, such as an amputation or large cut, bleeding can lead to severe shock, infection and other lethal consequences if medical treatment is not received immediately. Being able to distinguish between mild and serious bleeding is crucial. I am sure your friends or parents would not want to pay hundreds of dollars for an ambulance because you decided to call one for a papercut. 

Although it is relatively intuitive to tell if bleeding from a wound is serious or not, there are some scenarios that are serious enough to warrant immediate medical attention for a wound. Moreover, many wounds that may seem manageable without medical attention are not! One case that warrants immediate medical attention is if the wound is spurting bright red blood. This likely means that it is coming directly from an artery which is extremely dangerous because the wound is unable to clot effectively under the high pressures of the artery. Moreover, blood leaves the body very quickly and this injury could cause significant blood loss if medical attention is not sought immediately. 

Another scenario that warrants immediate medical attention is an internal bleed. This means that blood is exiting from a vessel, cavity or space that it is not supposed to inside of the body. This can cause devastating consequences if left untreated. There are three main indicators of an internal bleed: rigidity of the abdomen upon touch, worsening abdominal pain and swelling and a bloated abdomen. The reason that symptoms generally manifest itself in the abdomen is because generally, internal bleeds that could lead to excessive blood loss is in the abdomen.

The final scenario that warrants immediate medical attention is if the wound does not stop bleeding or the blood loss is excessive. Even if the wound is not arterial or internal, it can still result in severe consequences if enough fluids are lost. In fact, the average adult only needs to lose about a liter of blood before going into shock. Whether the person losing blood is conscious or not, proper medical care is imperative. It should be noted that even if someone bleeding does not fit any of the descriptions above and you have a gut feeling that higher medical care is needed for treatment, you should contact your local emergency care or call 9-1-1.

If a bleed does not fit any of these descriptions and you do not believe it is serious enough to warrant medical attention, there are some things that you can do to mitigate the blood loss and prevent further complications. 

The first thing that you should do is to stop the bleeding as quickly as possible. To accomplish this, apply direct pressure using clean gauze or a piece of cloth, and if the injury is on a limb, raise the limb above the level of the heart. If the blood soaks through the cloth or gauze, then do not remove it, as this can disrupt any clots that are forming. Instead, place a fresh piece of cloth or gauze directly on top of the original one. Additionally, bleeding control kits have recently been placed in some of the high-traffic places on campus. As of right now, there are bleeding control kits in the Shapiro Campus Center (SCC), Usdan Student Center, Gosman Sports and Convocation Center and the library.

The second thing that you should do after the wound has stopped bleeding is to remove the gauze and clean the wound with soap and water. Do not do this too aggressively; you do not want to remove the scab from the wound. Lastly, you should rub an antibiotic ointment over the injury to prevent infection and place a bandage on the wound.

Now that you know how to properly stop bleeding, the first step to being an expert is to practice in real life. I’ve always found that the best way to do this is to intentionally injure my friends and then practice on them. Just kidding, but now at least when the chance does arise, you can show all your friends and family that you are a true blood expert!

(Note: These articles are good-faith attempts to be helpful to the Brandeis community and are by no means to be taken as universal. This article does not replace the advice of a medical professional. This article is not written on behalf of the Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps (BEMCo) and is not affiliated with BEMCo in any manner.)

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