Bleeding refers to the loss of blood. Bleeding can happen inside the body (internally) or outside the body (externally). It may occur:

Alternative Names

Blood loss; Open injury bleeding


Always seek emergency assistance for severe bleeding, and if internal bleeding is suspected. Internal bleeding can rapidly become life threatening, and immediate medical care is needed.

Serious injuries don't always bleed heavily, and some relatively minor injuries (for example, scalp wounds) can bleed quite a lot. People who take blood-thinning medication or who have a bleeding disorder such as hemophilia may bleed excessively and quickly because their blood does not clot properly. Bleeding in such people requires immediate medical attention.

Direct pressure will stop most external bleeding, and is the most important first aid step.

Always wash your hands before (if possible) and after giving first aid to someone who is bleeding, in order to avoid infection.

Try to use latex gloves when treating someone who is bleeding. Latex gloves should be in every first aid kit. People allergic to latex can use a non-latex, synthetic glove. You can catch viral hepatitis if you touch infected blood, and HIV can be spread if infected blood gets into an open wound -- even a small one.

Although puncture wounds usually don't bleed very much, they carry a high risk of infection. Seek medical care to prevent tetanus or other infection.

Abdominal and chest wounds can be very serious because of the possibility of severe internal bleeding. They may not look very serious, but can result in shock. Seek immediate medical care for any abdominal or chest wound. If organs are showing through the wound, do not try to push them back into place. Cover the injury with a moistened cloth or bandage, and apply only very gentle pressure to stop the bleeding.

Blood loss can cause bruises (blood collected under the skin), which usually result from a blow or a fall. They are dark, discolored areas on the skin. Apply a cool compress to the area as soon as possible to reduce swelling. Wrap the ice in a towel and place the towel over the injury. Do not place ice directly on the skin.


Bleeding can be caused by injuries or can occur spontaneously. Spontaneous bleeding is most commonly caused by problems with the joints or the gastrointestinal or urogenital tracts.


Symptoms of internal bleeding may also include:

First Aid

First aid is appropriate for external bleeding. If bleeding is severe, or if shock or internal bleeding is suspected, get emergency help immediately.

  1. Calm and reassure the person. The sight of blood can be very frightening.
  2. If the wound is superficial, wash it with soap and warm water and pat dry. Superficial wounds or scrapes are injuries that affect the top layers of skin and bleeding from such wounds is often described as "oozing," because it is slow.
  3. Lay the person down. This reduces the chances of fainting by increasing blood flow to the brain. When possible, raise up the part of the body that is bleeding.
  4. Remove any obvious loose debris or dirt from a wound. If an object such as a knife, stick, or arrow becomes stuck in the body, DO NOT remove it. Doing so may cause more damage and may increase bleeding. Place pads and bandages around the object and tape the object in place.
  5. Put pressure directly on an outer wound with a sterile bandage, clean cloth, or even a piece of clothing. If nothing else is available, use your hand. Direct pressure is best for external bleeding, except for an eye injury.
  6. Maintain pressure until the bleeding stops. When it has stopped, tightly wrap the wound dressing with adhesive tape or a piece of clean clothing. Place a cold pack over the dressing. Do not peek to see if the bleeding has stopped.
  7. If bleeding continues and seeps through the material being held on the wound, do not remove it. Simply place another cloth over the first one. Be sure to seek medical attention.
  8. If the bleeding is severe, get medical help and take steps to prevent shock. Keep the injured body part completely still. Lay the person flat, raise the feet about 12 inches, and cover the person with a coat or blanket. DO NOT move the person if there has been a head, neck, back, or leg injury, as doing so may make the injury worse. Get medical help as soon as possible.


When to Contact a Medical Professional

Seek medical help if:


Use good judgment and keep knives and sharp objects away from small children.

Stay up-to-date on vaccinations, especially the tetanus immunization.


Cornwell EE. Initial approach to trauma. In: Tintinalli JE, Kelen GD, Stapczynski JS, Ma OJ, Cline DM, eds. Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 6th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2004: chap 251.

Review Date: 2/11/2011
Reviewed By: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc., Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington.
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