Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at December 18, 2015

Everyone has bled from time to time. However, some instances of bleeding can be much more serious than others.


Definition & Facts

Bleeding is defined, by the medical definition from Merriam-Webster, as "the escape of blood from vessels" or as "an act, instance, or result of being bled". It is also a British English term for an emphasis on something (i.e. "this is bleeding fantastic") or as a way to express an annoyance (bleeding daft). However, many recognize the term to be a medical one, and is often used in that way, such as when a young child gets a scrape and they cry "I'm bleeding!"


Bleeding can be caused by a variety of things. There are medical conditions that can cause it, differences in gender, and even simple cuts can cause someone to bleed. The list of possible causes of bleeding can include, but certainly is not limited to:

  • ballistic trauma (any type of firearms injury; think of a gunshot wound)
  • hematoma (damage to a blood vessel that causes pooling under the skin)
  • Von Willebrand disease (a genetic defect that can create easy bruising and prolonged bleeding in normal situations; may suffer easy nose bleeding as well)
  • any medical procedure meant to cause someone to bleed
  • incisions (cut into tissue or organ, usually by medical personal, but can be inflicted in other ways)
  • punctures (like a nail, knife, or needle going through the skin)

This list is certainly not extensive, but these are among the most common and more extreme causes alike. Internal bleeding can also be the cause of bleeding, but this may not be immediately clear.

When to see a doctor

Everyone has had a nosebleed or a cut that has bled. These are not worth seeing a doctor over. However, there are times to see a doctor. For a pregnant woman, final weeks of pregnancy are often accompanied by vaginal discharge that is pink or bloody as a sign of coming labor. In the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, bleeding that is heavy, includes tissue, is accompanied by pain in the abdominal/cramping/chills/fever, spotting/light discharge that goes away after 24 hours, and any bleeding in the vaginal area that lasts longer than 24 hours all warrant a doctor's visit.

During the next 12 weeks, light vaginal bleeding that disappears after a few hours, or any bleeding accompanied by the same signs above also warrants a visit. For the last 12 weeks (or until week 40), any bleeding before 37 weeks pregnant is a bad sign and should be addressed by a doctor, especially when accompanied by pain. If a woman experiences a menstrual period longer than 10 days and is much different than her other cycles or her normal, that is a sign she needs to see a doctor. Any firearms wound should also be treated by a doctor.

Treatment & Therapy

911 should be called if there is a chance it is internal bleeding, the blood is spurting from the wound, it won't stop bleeding after 10 minutes of firm and steady pressure, the wound is on the abdomen or chest, or the bleeding is severe. That is the best treatment for those symptoms. However, for minor and slightly mild bleeding, there is plenty that can be done at home.

To stop the bleeding, apply pressure with a clean cloth or tissue, or even gauze if that's all that's available, until the bleeding stops. One common mistake people make is to remove blood soaked layers. This is a big mistake as it can rip the scabbing off and make the bleeding worse. Simply continue to add pressure and clean layers. Raise the limb above the heart, if possible, so that less blood flows to the wound. Unless the bleeding is quite severe and doesn't stop via the pressure method mentioned above, or the wound is accompanied by the injection of poison, do not apply a tourniquet to the wound.

If the wound must be cleaned, do not use hydrogen peroxide or iodine. Instead, use soap and warm water, making sure to rinse all of the soap out of the wound to prevent irritation. If the bleeding is menstrual and it's normal, typical methods of stopping that are okay. For severe bleeding, make sure that these steps are followed: removing obvious dirt and debris with disposable gloves meant to protect hands if available, then stop the bleeding using the steps mentioned above. If possible, lie the bleeding person on a rug or blanket, preserving body heat, and raise the limb above the heart. However, direct pressure should not be applied to eye or displaced organ injuries.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

One of the best ways to prevent bleeding is to protect the body. Injuries of any kind are common for bleeding. However, special cases of bleeding can easily be prevented. For nosebleeds, a common occurrence for some people, making sure that the nose is not blown too often or irritated enough to bleed is one way to prevent the bleeding. Another way to prevent bleeding is to make sure the air - if dry - is getting moisture somehow, or by using a saline spray to increase the moisture in the nose itself.

For cuts, handling a knife properly and always keeping it out of reach of children are two easy ways to prevent deep cuts that could require medical attention. Handle can openers, and the sharp edges some can create, with caution to avoid unnecessary cuts on the hands. Use razors with care. If zits tend to bleed, take care not to pop them and to prevent zits from forming in areas where they are prone to bleeding for someone's specific skin. Menstrual bleeding cannot be prevented, but a proper diet and healthy lifestyle can prevent unnecessarily heavy bleeding.

Books about Bleeding & First Aid at

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