Improvised Bleeding Control
Controlling life threatening external bleeding requires quick response to provide the best possible outcome for the patient.
Life threatening external bleeding is blood loss from cuts to veins and arteries. This bleeding will appear to pour or spurt from the body continuously.
Ideal treatment for controlling life threatening external bleeding is using a trauma kit such as our Trauma Major bleed kit that includes a commercial tourniquet, wound packing material and pressure dressings. See our stop the bleed post to for information on how to use commercial products designed for controlling life threatening bleeding.
When these supplies are not available you can improvise using clothing and supplies on hand to help control the bleeding while awaiting further advanced medical assistance and 9-1-1 EMS response.
Choosing the right supplies:
STEP 1: Find source of Blood Loss and call 9-1-1
Find the source of the bleeding (Wear gloves if possible) and call 9-1-1 EMS immediately:
- If bleeding is visualized through patient clothing cut or remove clothing in the area and find the source of blood loss.
- If bleeding cannot be easily visualized (under patient, under layers of clothing, patient unconscious) feel with your hands from head to toe removing clothing that may not allow blood to seep through (example rain coat, snow pants) check hands for blood as you move down the patient. Once blood is felt expose the area to locate the exact source of bleeding.
STEP 2: Pack wound with Cloth and Provide Well Aimed Direct Pressure
Find a piece of clothing (clean ideal) that can be applied directly to the source of bleeding and place both hands over the cloth and the source of bleeding and apply firm pressure for at least 5 minutes.
- Cotton fabric is ideal
- If wound is deep pack clothing tight into the wound
- If bleeding appears to be controlled (no significant blood still pouring from around cloth) maintain firm pressure with 2 hands for at least 5 minutes
- If bleeding does not seem to be controlled (blood still pouring around cloth) Push cloth deeper into wound and apply firmer pressure directly on source of bleeding
STEP 3: Secure Dressing & Improvise Tourniquet if Necessary
After holding firm pressure with both hands directly on source of bleeding for at least 5 minutes you can apply a securing tie to maintain pressure on wound:
- Find a long piece of cloth or clothing to wrap around cloth in wound and tie tightly with know directly over source of bleeding
- If blood continues to leak from the cloth applied to the wound add an improvised tourniquet at least 1 hand width above source of bleeding (do not apply directly on joint go above joint)
- If blood continues to seep from wound apply a second improvised tourniquet above the first the first improvised tourniquet and return to providing firm pressure with both hands directly on the source of bleeding.
- Commercial tourniquets are preferable and more effective but improvised tourniquets can be helpful when these are not available (see link for research article).