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Know a Serious Bleed When You See It

What’s the best way to stop the bleed?

First, determine how serious the bleeding is.

Serious Bleeding

Serious or life-threatening bleeding will be red and continuously flowing. It may be squirting.

In terms of amount, serious bleeding might mean there’s a half can of soda’s worth of blood on the ground. It may be pooling on the surface. Bleeding like this can occur when a person’s limb is removed during an accident or by an explosive device.

Non-Serious Bleeding

Non-serious bleeding sometimes resolves on its own (it clots!). Sometimes it requires some direct pressure.

For example, a small paper cut will probably resolve on its own and clot. On the other hand, if you cut yourself while cooking, you might need to apply direct pressure to the cut to get it to stop bleeding.

Treat Serious Bleeding

Where is the serious bleeding occurring?

Treat non-serious bleeding

First, apply pressure! Remember, pressure stops bleeding. Here is how.

  • How long? There is no definite amount of time. Just apply continuous pressure until bleeding stops.
  • How and how much?
    • Use your hands to apply firm steady pressure until bleeding stops. You should hold pressure for at least 5 minutes before looking at the wound.
    • If bleeding does not stop, call 911 and continuing applying pressure until medical help arrives.
    • If you can, try to ensure the injured person is on a firm surface. That way, when you apply force to the bleeding, you are pressing into something.
  • Using what? If you have gauze available, use that. If not, use whatever you have available, such as a shirt, newspapers, or your hand.

Continue applying pressure until medical help arrives.

First, apply pressure!

Get the Facts

How Much Do You Know about Tourniquets?

Think you know all there is to know about tourniquets? Take this quick quiz and see just how much you know. Be sure to challenge your friends’ knowledge while you are at it, and share this quiz on social media.

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Tourniquet FAQ

Get the answers to the most frequently asked questions about tourniquets, their safety, and their use.

Unintentional injury is the leading cause of death for people ages 1-44 years in the U.S., and it has been since 2005 (see the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control 10 Leading Causes of Death and Injury for more information). Unintentional injury refers to accidents (e.g., car accident) or crime (e.g., injury caused during a break-in). While most injuries do not require a tourniquet, some do. You can save a life by knowing what to do when you are in a situation in which someone is injured.

Tourniquets do save lives. In fact, during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they have been used to quickly treat severe injuries. As we mentioned in the Get the Facts section, the 75th Army Ranger regiment had a much lower death rate from survivable injuries than units that did not universally train on tourniquet application. More importantly, 94% of soldiers in the 75th Army Ranger Regiment who were treated with tourniquets survived their injuries. Today, tourniquets are supplied in each soldier’s individual first aid kit.

In recent events we have seen combat-type injuries in America. You may be able to save a life if you know how to apply a tourniquet. For instance, police officers often carry Individual First Aid Kits, which include bleeding control devices like tourniquets; by using these kits, police officers were able to save lives in the Louisiana movie theater shooting in 2015. For further information, refer to this article.

In some public places, you will find bleeding control kits with tourniquets and gauze next to AEDs. You might see them in some airports, such as at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport in their airport terminal building and facility. You can learn more about other initiatives to provide public access and training on how to stop the bleed here. You can also purchase commercially available tourniquets.

Apply direct pressure. Commercial tourniquets are most effective. If you do not have one available, apply strong direct pressure. Use your hands to apply firm steady pressure until bleeding stops and call 911.

Leave the tourniquet on until medical professionals arrive.

If available, using gloves would be best. However, often no gloves are available. You should wash your hands as soon as possible after handling blood and avoid contact with your mouth and eyes. Your risk of infection from HIV and other blood borne illnesses is very low. In fact, the risk of contracting HIV from infected blood coming into contact with non-intact skin (such as scrapes and lacerations) is less than 0.1%. There is no risk of contracting HIV if infected blood comes into contact with intact skin (Source:CDCCDC). Still, if you are exposed to blood, contact your healthcare provider.

Tourniquets and bleeding control kits are commercially available for purchase. In certain public spaces, bleeding control kits may be available (such as airports).

Tourniquet Glossary

A device (bandage, strip of cloth, etc.) that is tied tightly around an injured arm or leg to stop or slow the bleeding from a wound. (Source: Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)

Hemorrhage is the medical term for bleeding. It usually refers to excessive bleeding.

A person’s limbs, specifically their arms and legs.

The main part of the human body not including the head, arms, and legs. (Source: Merriam Webster Online Dictionary)

A wound that is produced by the tearing of soft body tissue, and is often irregular and jagged. (Source: MedlinePlus )

A loss of blood that is continuously flowing, and possibly squirting. Serious bleeding results in a large amount of blood loss, possibly around a half can of soda’s worth of blood. Serious bleeding may occur due to severe events such as an accident or an explosion.

A loss of blood that only leads to a small amount of blood loss. Non-serious bleeding usually results from less severe wounds and may resolve itself on its own or via direct pressure.

A firm force applied to a wound in order to stop the loss of blood. Direct pressure is often applied with a person’s hands, and sometimes assisted with available materials like gauze or clothing. (Source: Harvard Medical School)


To learn more about how to save a life, the Stop the Bleed campaign, or other blood-related information, check out the following resources below.

National Center for Disaster Medicine & Public Health


Find out more about education, training, and research in disaster medicine & public health preparedness.

Stop the Bleed


Find out more information about the Stop the Bleed initiative and learn how you can support the cause.

SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline


Find resources for support for natural or human-caused disasters and crises.

American College of Surgeons


Learn more about what to do in a bleeding emergency..

The Hartford Consensus


Learn about the importance of bleeding control in today’s world.

The THREAT Response Plan


Learn how controlling hemorrhages fits into the THREAT Response Plan.

National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT) Resources


Find out how to take the NAEMT’s course and learn the different methods of bleeding control.

Stop the Bleeding Coalition


Visit the Stop the Bleeding Coalition’s website to find out more about their efforts to spread the word about controlling bleeding caused by disasters and mass casualty events.

White House Stop the Bleed


Learn more about the White House launch of the Stop the Bleed campaign.

FEMA Until Help Arrives


Learn what it takes to be an effective immediate responder when disaster strikes.