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Helping an injured person is easy enough when you’re in a city and can seek professional help immediately. But how to stop bleeding when an accident happens in the great outdoors? By the time rescue arrives, the person may lose severe amounts of blood. Which can further lead to hemorrhagic shock, limb loss or even death.

That’s why everyone should learn the basics of hemorrhage control and have an IFAK kit at all times. With most types of trauma, the first thing you should do is call 911 or have someone else do it if possible. While waiting for medical help to arrive, you should still try to stop bleeding. If none of those is possible, it’s paramount to try and transport the victim to safety.

How to Stop Bleeding in 8 Steps

In the case of external bleeding (bleeding from a wound on the surface of the body), the procedure is quite simple – at least in theory. If you carefully follow these steps while acting fast, there shouldn’t be any complications. As outdoor addicts (especially hunters and campers) know all too well, injuries happen quite often in the wild. Most of the time, they are easily treatable.

But even if they require medical help, you can’t just sit idly while waiting for it to arrive. Here are some things you can do to alleviate the situation or at least buy some precious time.

  1. Don’t forget to wash or sanitize your hands. You won’t be touching the wound directly, but you still want to eliminate any risk of (additional) infection. Also, put on a pair of sterile, disposable gloves. They will protect both the helper and the victim from contamination.
  2. Help the injured person lie down. The more severe the bleeding is, the more important it is to reduce the impact of gravitation on the blood vessels.
  3. If possible at all, elevate the injured limb or body part above the heart level. Again, the point is to make sure the gravitation is on your side.
  4. If there is obvious debris in the wound, remove it. Do not try to wash out the wound on your own unless it’s a small or mild injury such as a minor cut.
  5. Put some gauze, clean folded cloth or bandage onto the wound and try to stop bleeding by applying physical pressure with both hands, as hard and steady as you can. Sure, this pressure will hurt. Nevertheless, you should maintain it for at least 10-15 minutes, or more if it doesn’t stop. Use your watch or phone to keep track of the time so you don’t stop the pressure too early. Three things are important here. Don’t stop the pressure to check if the bleeding has stopped. Also, don’t remove the cloth if it gets soaked. Instead, just add another layer or two. Thirdly, if there’s an object buried deep, don’t try to pull it out. Apply pressure around it, or else it might go even deeper, damaging the tissue to stop bleeding
  6. When dealing with a deep cut, you’ll have to stuff it with sterile cloth or gauze. It’s a messy and stressful thing to do, and extremely painful for the victim. But it will often be the only way to control the bleeding. 
  7. If the injury is on a limb, you can apply a tourniquet. That is, of course, if you have one and know how to use it. Tourniquets are very efficient when you can’t apply enough pressure on your own. It will hurt as hell, but it may help save the limb. You can even improvise a tourniquet if you’re calm enough to act fast. (Check out the video below.)
  8. Keep an eye on the person’s general condition all the time. If cold sweat, disorientation or loss of consciousness happen, they may be entering a hemorrhagic shock, which is extremely dangerous.

How to Deal With Internal Bleeding?

Even though you should always try and stop bleeding if medical help isn’t readily available, there are situations when you’ll be unable to do it – for example, internal bleeding. The most you may hope for as a layperson is to be able to actually recognize that it’s happening.

In most cases, the injured person will feel excrutiating pain in their abdomen, head or wherever the bleeding occurs. But if they’re unconscious or don’t report pain for whatever reason, there are a few telltale signs of internal bleeding:

  • Passing out or feeling very dizzy. If this happens to the person even though there are no visible fractures or injuries on their body, it may signify a massive blood loss happening inside.
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure). It can have many potential causes. But if it happens in the aftermath of a trauma, chances are it’s caused by internal bleeding.
  • Large patches of dark purple or blackish skin. This happens due to bleeding underneath and into the skin, and is called ecchymosis. Unlike a common bruise or hematoma, this patch of skin won’t swell. While ecchymosis happens relatively often to most of us, if you notice it after a trauma, it probably means that there is some internal bleeding.
  • Bloody urine and stool. This may signify that there’s internal bleeding in the person’s abdomen. 

So what to do in such a situation? Call 911 or local emergency responders straight away. If that’s not possible, try to arrange transportation of the injured person from the backcountry to the nearest town.

Or, if s*it has hit the fan already, look for a medical doctor in your local community. Light internal bleeding can (and probably will) stop on its own. But if it’s serious and left untreated, it may lead to a fatal outcome.