Stop the Bleed!

In 2015, the White House (thanks, Obama) introduced Stop the Bleed a campaign to provide the general population with the tools and knowledge to provide aid in the case of life-threatening bleeding. This is an important cause because no matter how quickly emergency medical services (EMS) arrives, bystanders are typically first on the scene in everyday emergencies and natural or man-made disasters. A person can die from severe blood loss within five minutes, making the short time from trauma to EMS arrival the most vital.

In addition to improving public awareness about how to stop severe bleeding, the campaign also seeks to expand personal and public access to bleeding control kits in schools and other public places. The idea is that these kits become as common as AEDs or fire extinguishers.

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The campaign instructs participants on how to stop a bleed in a simplified way making these skills possible for anyone (including children) to perform on themselves or others. After calling 911 and ensuring the scene is safe to approach, a bystander should:

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A few more points regarding tourniquets:

  • Remember: HIGH and TIGHT! If unsure where the bleeding is coming from, place the tourniquet as high up on the arm or leg as possible.
  • If bleeding appears life-threatening, skip the pressure and apply a tourniquet immediately!
  • Assess for the absence of a distal pulse– if blood gets past the tourniquet into the distal limb and is unable to return, increased pressure in the lower part of the extremity can cause “compartment syndrome”. If there is a distal pulse after a tourniquet has been applied, attempt to tighten further.
  • I know this sounds like common sense, but do not apply a tourniquet to the head, neck, or torso.

Now, even though the availability of bleeding control kits and tourniquets is improving, not everyone will always have a tourniquet readily available. Any strong, pliable, material such as gauze, clothing, or cravats that are at least two inches wide may be used to improvise a tourniquet– never use wire, shoestrings, or cord! Additionally, a rigid, stick-like object will be needed. You may need to be creative, but once you have these items, follow the steps below:

  1. Place material around the limb.
  2. Tie the material in a half knot, place the stick over the knot and then tie a full knot on top of that.
  3. Twist the stick until the tourniquet is tight around the limb and/or the bright red bleeding has stopped.
  4. Secure the stick by looping the free ends of the tourniquet or another similar material around the end of the stick.
  5. Bring the ends around the limb to prevent the stick from loosening and tie the ends together on the side of the limb.

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About Ryan Barnes, BSN, RN, PCCN

Cardiac Surgery RN from Baltimore, DNP student, and Army nurse.

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