How to Control Bleeding

“Apply pressure where the blood is coming out,” says Christopher B. Colwell, the chief of emergency medicine at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center. You may need to remove or rip open some of the victim’s clothing to access the injury. “Grab a shirt, a towel, a fabric bag — it doesn’t have to be clean,” Colwell says. Put the cloth over the wound, and push down continuously and forcefully on it with both hands until the bleeding stops.

If you see blood spurting, pooling or rapidly soaking through clothing, consider the situation life-threatening. Uncontrolled bleeding is the primary cause of preventable death from trauma. Of the American military personnel who died on the battlefield between 2001 and 2011, researchers found that nearly a quarter were bleed-out deaths that were “potentially survivable.” “You don’t need extensive training to save a life,” Colwell says. Move quickly; a severed main vessel near the heart or in the groin can result in death within minutes, but with arms and leg injuries you’ll often have more time. You may need to put your hands inside the gash. Try to avoid getting blood in your eyes or mouth, but don’t fret about disease as long as you don’t have open wounds on your own hands. “The risk to you is very low, and the benefit to somebody who’s bleeding rapidly is very high,” Colwell says.