A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Stop the bleeding using the ABCs

Band aids in the shape of a cross. illustration - How to stop bleeding

In an emergency situation, getting someone to stop bleeding is an important step when providing first aid.

In an emergency situation, getting someone to stop bleeding is an important step when providing first aid.

National interest in training individuals how to stop bleeding has grown due to the increase in mass casualty events at public places like schools, concerts and other large gatherings. However, this skill is important because an accident could happen at any time that forces you to help stop someone from bleeding out. To help stop the bleed, follow the ABCs:


Before you do anything, alert the authorities and call 911. Ideally, you are in a situation where you can tell someone to call. You should also make sure the situation is safe before helping the injured person.


After calling 911 and making sure the area is safe, identify the location of the bleeding and whether it is life-threatening.

The location of the injury affects how it should be treated. In some cases, you should remove clothing over the injury to have a better view.

If blood is spurting or pooling, the injury is life-threatening. The blood is pooling if it keeps coming back after it is soaked up. An injury in the abdomen is automatically life-threatening because there could be internal bleeding. If there is a loss of limb or the person is confused, that also is a life-threatening injury.


Depending on whether the bleeding comes from a joint, limb or the abdomen, you can use different techniques to stop bleeding.

In a joint or abdomen area, you should pack the wound with gauze or cloth from the individual’s clothing until it is level with the skin. Then you should apply direct pressure on the area. If you do not have clean cloth available, use a dirty cloth.

For injuries on a limb, use a tourniquet.

“So much of the public was fearful that someone was going to lose their limb if they put a tourniquet on, but the military found there is very low incidence of losing a limb,” said Liz Kracht, Marshfield Medical Center injury prevention coordinator. She added that no patient has lost a limb if a tourniquet has been applied for less than two hours.

You can find a tourniquet in many first aid kits. It includes a strap that you snug around the limb two inches above the injury. You then place a stick inside of a loop and turn it until it is no longer turned and blocks off the blood. Make sure you document what time you put the tourniquet on.

In some instances, you may need two tourniquets and a dressing to stop bleeding. A homemade tourniquet is not recommended because in most cases it is ineffective.

In all instances, do not stop holding pressure or check if the individual is done bleeding until the paramedics arrive. You should never remove dressings from the injury. Instead you should just add a dressing over the already present dressing.

“If you take off that dressing, you could be dislodging clots that have formed,” Kracht said.

Learn more

If your community would like to receive training on how to stop bleeding, go to stopthebleed.org.

Marshfield Clinic Health System is also providing training for central Wisconsin through Marshfield Medical Center at 715-387-9675.

For immediate care, visit Marshfield Clinic Health System.

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