Most people know how to treat a papercut or a nick with a kitchen knife, but what about a wound that’s more serious? Depending on the size and location of an injury, blood loss will look different in volume, speed, and color. Knowing how to identify and treat the main types of blood loss can be the information that saves a life.
Capillaries are vessels that connect arteries and veins. While small—thinner than the width of a hair, in fact—capillaries run all throughout your body and are usually closer to the surface of your skin than other vessels. If you cut yourself shaving or skin your knee, capillaries are to blame for the blood.
Capillary bleeding often stops on its own. While blood may flow quickly at first, it typically slows within a few minutes or seconds as your body’s clotting factors take over. Light pressure with clean gauze will slow the bleeding even faster, and after it stops, cover the wound with a bandage to prevent infection.
Veins carry deoxygenated blood back to the heart. Their low pressure means blood tends to leak steadily from these injuries instead of spurting or spraying. Since it lacks oxygen, this blood may appear dark crimson in color.
Though venous bleeding can be easier to manage due to the lower pressure, it can still be serious if not addressed properly. Apply direct pressure to the wound with a medical bandage or clean cloth—clothing can be used in an emergency. Bandage tightly after 8-10 minutes of direct pressure, and seek medical attention for the victim.
Arteries take oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the organs. As the blood pressure in these vessels is high, bleeding from arterial damage can be hard to control. Arterial blood tends to be lighter in color, almost orange or yellow-tinted, but it’s best identified by its fast, powerful spurts, sometimes reaching several yards high.
It’s important to act fast in any emergency situation, but because of the accelerated and high volume of blood loss, arterial bleeding is especially dangerous. In similar fashion to venous bleeding, apply direct pressure immediately and continuously; use the palms of your hands to evenly distribute pressure. If there is another bystander, have them help you wrap the wound securely while you hold the gauze in place.
Don’t cease pressure until the bleeding stops. To check, don’t lift the bandages or gauze from the wound; instead, lift your fingers. If blood seeps through this first layer of dressings, do not remove them—apply more dressings on top and continue holding the wound.
When addressing serious bleeding, remove loose debris from the wound, but if something is impaled or embedded, do not remove it, as this could accelerate blood loss. Take care to not press on any foreign objects in the wound while applying pressure. Don’t try to disinfect the wound either; your first priority should be stopping the bleeding.
Help the victim lie down. Elevate their legs, and, if possible, the wounded part of their body. The former helps keep oxygen flowing to their brain, while the latter decreases blood loss by forcing the heart to work harder.
Once the bleeding has stopped, don’t move the victim until professional medical help arrives.
For more first aid tips, check out the Specialized Health and Safety blog.