How to Control Bleeding

4 First Aid Steps Everyone Should Know

Regardless of how severe a cut or laceration is, all bleeding can be controlled. With that said, some wounds can cause profuse bleeding, and it is only with the proper first aid interventions that the bleeding can be stopped.

Preparation and awareness are key to treating any wound properly. This starts with having a fully stocked first aid kit close at hand wherever you are. It is equally important to recognize when bleeding requires emergency care.

Bleeding Emergencies

People don't always know if a wound is serious enough to warrant a call to 911. Or, they may be reluctant to make the call because of a lack of insurance. If in doubt, though, it is always best to err on the side of caution and make the call.

As a general rule, you need to call 911 or rush the injured party to the nearest emergency room if:

  • The wound is deep enough to reveal the underlying dermis or fatty subcutaneous layer.
  • The bleeding can't be stopped with 10 minutes of firm, steady pressure.
  • The injured party is showing signs of shock.

Even if you are able to stop the bleeding, don't assume that medical care is no longer needed. The wound may still require stitches to heal properly. Certain wounds require vaccination to reduce the risk of tetanus or rabies. Lacerations or puncture wounds on the joints and other vulnerable parts of the body can cause permanent nerve, ligament, or tendon damage if not treated appropriately.

It is therefore important to seek immediate medical care if:

  • A wound is gaping, and you can't press the edges together with gentle pressure.
  • There is a deep laceration or puncture wound on a joint.
  • The wound has been contaminated with a very dirty or rusty object.
  • The wound was caused by a human or animal bite.
  • The wound is on or around the genitals.

Symptoms to Watch For

Even if the bleeding is stopped, it should almost invariably be seen by a healthcare provider if the wound is deep or there was profuse, spurting blood. The same applies if there was a significant loss of blood, which could lead to a potentially life-threatening condition known as hypovolemic shock.

Call 911 if the injured party experiences signs of shock, including:

You should also seek care if the wound becomes infected. See a healthcare provider immediately if the injured party experiences a high fever, chills, nausea or vomiting, and a rapidly expanding area of hot, swollen, and tender skin. These could be signs of a potentially deadly infection known as cellulitis.

How to Stock a First Aid Kit

While you can certainly purchase a fully stocked first aid kit online and in most drugstores, you can put one together on your own. If you do decide to make your own kit (for the house, car, office, etc.), the American Red Cross suggests that you include the following:

  • Two 5 x 9-inch absorbent compress dressings
  • Five 4 x 4-inch sterile gauze pads
  • Five 3 x 3-inch sterile gauze pads
  • Two triangular bandages
  • Adhesive bandages in assorted sizes
  • A roll of adhesive cloth tape (10 yards x 1 inch)
  • Five antibiotic ointment packets
  • Five antiseptic wipes
  • Hydrocortisone ointment
  • One roller bandage (4 inches wide)
  • Tweezers

How to Stop Bleeding: Direct Pressure

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Hold pressure directly on the wound

Rod Brouhard

The first step in controlling a bleeding wound is to plug the hole. Blood needs to clot in order to stop the bleeding and start the healing process. Just like ice won't form on the rapids of a river, blood will not coagulate when it's flowing.

The best way to stop it is to:

  • Put pressure directly on the wound.
  • If you have some type of gauze, use it. Gauze pads hold the blood on the wound and help the components of the blood to stick together, promoting clotting.
  • If you don't have gauze, terrycloth towels work almost as well.

If the gauze or towel soaks through with blood, add another layer. Never take off the gauze. Peeling blood-soaked gauze off a wound removes vital clotting agents and encourages bleeding to resume.

Once bleeding is controlled, take steps to treat the victim for shock.


How to Stop Bleeding: Elevate Above the Heart

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Elevate the wound to slow blood flow

Rod Brouhard

Gravity makes blood flow down easier than it flows up. If you hold one hand above your head and the other at your side, the lower hand will be red while the higher one is pale.

Step two to control bleeding uses this principle.

  • Elevate the wound above the heart to slow the flow of blood.
  • As the blood slows, it becomes easier to stop it with direct pressure.
  • Remember, the wound must be above the heart and you must keep direct pressure on it.

How to Stop Bleeding: Use Pressure Points

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Pressure points should be between the wound and the heart.

Rod Brouhard

Pressure points are areas of the body where blood vessels run close to the surface. By pressing on these blood vessels, blood flow further away will be slowed, allowing direct pressure to stop bleeding.

When using pressure points, make sure you are pressing on a point closer to the heart than the wound. Pressing on a blood vessel farther from the heart than the wound will have no effect on the bleeding.

Remember to also keep the wound elevated above the heart and keep pressure directly on the wound.

Common pressure points:


How to Stop Bleeding: Tourniquets

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Tourniquets should almost never be used.

Rod Brouhard

When should you use a tourniquet? The simple answer: almost never.

Tourniquets severely restrict or occlude blood flow to the arm or leg to which they are applied. Using a tourniquet to stop bleeding has the potential to damage the entire arm or leg. People lose limbs from the use of tourniquets.

If a tourniquet doesn't cause a loss of function in the extremity, then it probably wasn't applied correctly.

Applying a tourniquet is a desperate move—only for dire emergencies where the choice between life and limb must be made.

To use a tourniquet:

  • Wrap a cravat (nonstretchy material like terry cloth or linen) around an extremity and tighten it with a windlass stuck through the bandage (see photo).
  • Tighten until the wound stops bleeding. If there's any bleeding at the wound after placing a tourniquet, then the tourniquet must be tightened.
  • It's important to note the time a tourniquet was applied and write it down somewhere handy.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I stop a nosebleed?

    To treat a nosebleed, sit down and firmly press the soft part of your nose just above the nostrils for 10 minutes or more. Instead of tilting your head back, lean forward and breathe through your mouth. This will allow the blood to drain into the nose, speeding coagulation, rather than letting it run freely down the back of your throat.

  • How do I stop heavy menstrual bleeding with clots?

    In addition to using tampons and doubling up pads, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil (ibuprofen) may help reduce bleeding. If you are prone to frequent heavy flows, your healthcare provider may prescribe an oral contraceptive that can correct the hormonal imbalances that promote bleeding. There is also a drug called Lysteda (tranexamic acid) that can be taken during menstruation to reduce the flow.

  • How do I stop bleeding gums?

    Bleeding gums can be treated by rinsing your mouth with water and gently pressing a moistened gauze against the gums until the bleeding stops. Afterward, rinse with salt water or an antiseptic mouthwash to reduce bacteria and inflammation. If the bleeding is significant, you can hold an ice pack against the gums (but for no longer than 10 minutes to avoid frostbite).

  • How do I stop a cut from bleeding?

    Smaller cuts are treated similarly to larger wounds. Place pressure on the cut with a clean tissue. When the bleeding stops, place the cut under cold running water to remove any debris. Gently apply antiseptic cream, and cover with an adhesive bandage.

  • What home remedies can stop bleeding?

    There are many different home remedies that people turn to stop bleeding, some of which work better than others. Some of the more common include:

15 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  13. Venkateswara B, Sirisha K, Chava VK. Green tea extract for periodontal health. J Indian Soc Periodontol. 2011 Jan-Mar;15(1):18-22. doi:10.4103/0972-124X.82258

  14. Dawid-Pac R. Medicinal plants used in treatment of inflammatory skin diseases. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. 2013 Jun;30(3):170-7. doi:10.5114/pdia.2013.35620

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By Rod Brouhard, EMT-P
Rod Brouhard is an emergency medical technician paramedic (EMT-P), journalist, educator, and advocate for emergency medical service providers and patients.