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How to Stop a Wound from Bleeding

Contributor: Phillip L. Rice, Jr., MD
5 minute read
Emergency bleeding control: How to stop bleeding

Bleeding emergencies can happen suddenly and vary greatly in severity. Most minor cuts won’t require stitches or involve a dangerous blood loss, but some injuries can be severe.

Knowing how to control and stop bleeding can be lifesaving in cases of large or deep cuts, wounds caused by gunshots or explosives, or other puncture wounds. Emergency responders take on average 7 to 10 minutes to arrive once contacted, but a gravely wounded person can bleed to death in less than 5 minutes.

Mass General Brigham emergency doctor and Salem Hospital Chair of Emergency Medicine Phillip L. Rice, Jr., MD, lays out these steps you can follow in a bleeding emergency:

Step 1: Examine the wound and call for help.

When someone appears to be badly wounded, try to quickly understand the nature and severity of their injury.


  • Remove any clothing, jewelry, or other items that may be covering the wound or make it harder to access.

  • Try to gauge the size and depth of the wound.

  • Call 9-1-1 if the wound looks deep, or severe, or appears to be losing a large amount of blood.

Do not:

  • Try to remove or extract an object from a wound.

  • Clean the wound.

  • Move the wounded person, unless they are in a place that is still dangerous to them.

Step 2: Stop a wound from bleeding.

Just stopping the bleeding from a serious wound can be the most important thing you can do until either emergency responders arrive, or you’re able to transport the injured person to a hospital or other nearby medical facility.


  • Cover the wound with a sterile dressing (if available) or a clean cloth.

  • Apply direct pressure to the wound until bleeding stops (except in the cases noted below).

  • Add additional layers of bandages to contain the flow if blood soaks through the first dressing.

  • Elevate the wound above the level of the heart if possible.

  • Keep the wounded person as still as you can until emergency help arrives or until you’ve transported them.

  • Cover the person with a blanket, jacket, or other available cover if they’re shivering or showing signs of going into shock.

Do not:

  • Apply pressure to an eye or head injury, or to any wound where an object is embedded.

  • Use a tourniquet if you haven’t had training to use one correctly.

If necessary, you can also apply all these steps to yourself if no one is present to help you.

What is hemorrhaging (“bleeding out”)?

Hemorrhaging is a kind of uncontrolled heavy bleeding. It can happen internally (inside the body) or from an external wound. Examples of internal bleeding include bleeding from deep puncture wounds or hemorrhagic strokes. These emergencies require immediate medical attention. The effects of losing blood internally are less obvious, but can be just as dangerous as those from external wounds.

Sometimes, people use the term “bleeding out” to describe hemorrhaging. This includes external and internal bleeding. Both involve rapid, extreme blood loss, and can be life-threatening.

Effects of losing blood

Even if bleeding is internal, you can recognize the signs of hemorrhage. These include:

  • Weak or shallow breathing

  • Chest pain

  • Increased sweating

  • Drop in blood pressure

  • Confusion

  • Dizziness

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Blue, purple, or other discolored lips or fingernails

How to use a tourniquet

A tourniquet is a band that you tighten around a limb (arm or leg), typically above a wound, to stop the blood flow from a major blood vessel that’s been crushed or severed. A tourniquet can prevent excessive blood loss and keep someone from bleeding out, but it should only be used in situations of severe bleeding.

Follow these guidelines:

  • Use a tourniquet only if you’ve been trained to use one correctly.

  • Use only commercially available first aid tourniquets (do not use scarves, belts, rope, or other improvised tourniquets).

  • Use a tourniquet only for severe wounds where critical blood loss is evident.

Click here for a detailed visual guide on how to apply a tourniquet.

In emergency bleeding situations, get the bleeding person to a hospital or other medical facility as quickly as possible, even if you’ve successfully stopped their bleeding. Medical professionals best address care needs for serious wounds.

Phillip L. Rice, Jr., MD


Emergency Medicine Doctor