First Aid: How to Stop the Bleeding

If you have kids, a wife, elderly parents, or even a dog, you should probably know some type of first-aid.  Unfortunately, because of the enormity of topics “First-Aid” encompasses, covering all aspects of first-aid in this article would end up resembling a volume of War and Peace!

Since I am limited on time and your attention, I thought I would attack one of the most critical first-aid topics, BLEEDING. In the Military we jest and say, “all bleeding stops, eventually!” However, for your family’s sake, your goal should be to stop the bleeding before “eventually!”

So how do we stop the bleeding? Well first, we must understand the three different types of external bleeding; capillary, venous, and arterial.

Types of Bleeding

1.  Capillary Bleeding

Capillary bleeding occurs when the smallest blood vessels, or capillaries are damaged.  An example of capillary bleeding is when a child obtains scraped knees from falling on the playground.  This type of external bleed is the least severe.     

2.  Venous Bleeding

Venous bleeding occurs when a vein is damaged.  An example of a venous bleed is when you slice your finger while chopping vegetables.  This type of injury is more severe than capillary bleeding and will result in a steady flow of dark red blood. 

3.  Arterial Bleeding

Arterial bleeding occurs when an artery is lacerated.  Since arteries carry oxygenated blood delivered from the heart, the flow of blood will gush out in cadence with your heartbeat.  Arterial bleeding is the most severe type of bleeding and can be life threatening if it is not handled appropriately.

Now that we understand the three types of bleeding, how do we go about fixing them?

In most cases, capillary bleeding will clot and cease on its own. If you need to, applying a towel with pressure over the injury will stop the bleeding within minutes. 

Venous bleeding will most often require direct pressure to the wound.  Placing a towel or other material directly over the wound while applying pressure for several minutes will enable your body enough time to collapse its veins to slow the flow of blood and begin the blood clotting process. 

Arterial bleeding may not always stop with direct pressure.  The amount of external bleeding is largely dependent on the location of the injury.  Because arteries are transporting blood from the heart, the further away from the heart, the smaller the blood vessel and the least amount of bleeding occurs. The closer the injury is to the heart, the larger the blood vessel, which means more severe bleeding.  Arterial bleeding from arteries in the limbs, furthest away from the heart, may be slowed by elevating the limb above the heart.  Gravity will slow the transportation of blood to the wound and allow the blood to clot.   In situations like this, elevation and direct pressure may stop the bleeding. 

In contrast, arterial bleeding that occurs closest to the heart is more difficult to stop with direct pressure.   In cases like these, a tourniquet is required.

Tourniquets can be improvised with a belt, strap, or any material that can be cinched down. When choosing a material, make sure it is several inches wide. To avoid any malfunctions, I recommend every household buys at least one tourniquet for their ‘At Home First-Aid Kit.’  There are plenty of companies out there that make tourniquets for home use.

To apply a tourniquet, the material or device should be placed on the limb as high as possible. As close to the groin or shoulder as you can get. Tighten the device until the bleeding stops. Once in place, do not take it off and immediately call 911!   Keep in mind, tourniquets hurt…a lot! But the other option is less desirable!

We highly recommend you invest in a comprehensive first-aid kit for your family.  OTAC (Operations Tactical & Civilian) is a Veteran Owned company that produces trauma kits specifically made for bleeding.   In addition to supplying trauma kits and tourniquets, OTAC offers training videos to make sure you are well equipped to use your tourniquet if needed! 

Written by Joe Chiarella NRP, FP-C