First Aid for Major Blood Loss

The average person has around 8 – 10 pints of blood in their body. Our blood is vital to life. It carries Oxygen to all the cells in our body and removes waste products such as Carbon Dioxide. Blood is carried around the body in three main types of blood vessel:

Arteries: Carry blood under high pressure away from the heart.

Veins: Carry blood under low pressure back to the heart.

Capillaries: Carry blood to the individual cells and tissues, very small and very low pressures.

Damaging an artery (and even a vein) can lead to severe blood loss if the bleeding is not controlled. A severe bleed is a medical emergency which requires prompt first aid action in order to stop the bleeding and access emergency help.

Treatment for a severe bleed

You can use the mnemonic PEEP to remember how to deal with a severe bleed.

Position: Ask the casualty to sit on the floor if possible.

Expose & examine: Quickly find and examine the wound(s) for any embedded objects.

Elevation: If the injury is to a limb, elevate above the level of the heart.

Pressure: Ask the casualty to apply firm direct pressure over the wound (if the casualty is unable to do this, you will have to do it for them).

If possible, you should avoid coming into direct contact with another person’s blood. Several infections can be carried in blood, and whilst the risk may be minimal you should always take precautions. This could involve wearing disposable gloves, or using clothing/tea-towels/plastic bags to create a barrier between your hands and the wound.

Once you have controlled the bleeding, call for emergency help. Remember, the emphasis should be on applying and maintaining direct pressure over the wound as this will help stop significant blood loss.

If there is an object in the wound (such as a piece of glass), then you should not remove it. Removing the object may cause internal damage and further blood loss. Instead you should apply firm direct pressure around the wound, taking care not to move the object.

What happens if someone loses too much blood?

If someone loses too much blood, they will go into a condition known as “shock”. Our body can cope with a small amount of blood loss (normally around a pint), this is why giving blood is perfectly safe. However, if you lose too much blood your body’s cells & tissues are deprived of oxygen – this is a medical condition known as shock. If someone is going into shock, they may show some of the following signs & symptoms:

  • Pale, cold clammy skin
  • Dizziness and confusion
  • Weak fast pulse
  • Rapid breathing
  • Thirst
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Reduced level of alertness/sleepy

You should suspect shock in any casualty who has lost a significant amount of blood. The treatment for shock is to lie the person down, with their legs raised. This will increase blood flow to the vital organs (heart, lungs, brain etc.). An ambulance should be called if it hasn’t already. Don’t give the person anything to eat or drink as this may cause them to be sick. If they go unconscious, you should check that they are still breathing and roll them onto their side.