Major Bleeding – how quickly will they bleed to death?

Major bleeding is a time critical emergency and you may only have a few minutes to save a life


Paul McFarlane

5/21/20233 min read

Major bleeding kills over 5,000 people around the world every year because of accidents, traumatic injuries and knife or gunshot wounds. These deaths are often PREVENTABLE, which means a quick acting bystander, or first aider could have done something to arrest the bleeding and prevented the patient bleeding to death.

How quickly can someone die from a catastrophic haemorrhage? Within just a few minutes, actually!

With average response times for an emergency ambulance around 8-9 minutes in Australia, you can’t always afford to wait for ‘the professionals’ to arrive. Sometimes YOU must act decisively and aggressively to deal with an injury to prevent rapid deterioration and possible death.

Let me share with you some maths that may help you to understand the urgency when a patient has major bleeding. The average adult’s body contains approximately 5,000ml of circulatory blood. To help you visualise this, that’s equal to just 10 x 500ml bottles of blood.

To provide a general guideline, losing more than 30% of your blood, which is the equivalent of 1,500 ml (or three of our bottles), is considered a very critical situation that requires immediate lifesaving first aid to prevent irreversible damage or death.

It can be very difficult to estimate how much blood you could lose for every 60 seconds of active arterial bleeding, but if you get an injury to your femoral artery (in your upper thigh) you will lose a lot of blood very quickly. At rest, the average blood flow rate in the femoral artery can range from around 200 to 400ml per minute. However, during physical activity or extreme stress, the blood flow rate can increase significantly to meet the increased demands on the body. This can increase the blood flow rate in the femoral artery to 1,000ml per minute or even higher.

So, let's simplify this. If you lose 1,000ml of blood in a minute, you’ve just lost 2 of our 10 bottles of blood – 20% of your entire blood volume! Using this calculation, it could mean that after just 2 minutes of uncontrolled haemorrhage from a thigh wound could result in over 40% blood loss, which is often fatal.

In cases of trauma-related deaths, severe loss of blood is responsible for more than 50% of all fatalities. That’s why we recommend that you invest in a bleeding control kit like the ones we supply, to ensure you have the tools you need to save a life when seconds count.

Whilst managing major bleeding in real life situations is extremely stressful it doesn't have to be difficult. To help you to remember what to do, here’s a simple mnemonic that might help – EASE.

E - Expose the wound - Sometimes you don't know where the bleeding is coming from. Obviously if they're missing a leg, and it's bleeding heavily, then you know they're bleeding from the leg. But, what if it's dark, they've been stabbed in the groin, they're unresponsive and been rolling around in a pool of blood, which is now all over them? How do you possibly know where to plug if you don't know where the hole is?

A - Apply Pressure (MOST IMPORTANT) - Direct pressure is usually effective at slowing down and sometimes completely stopping further blood loss. Applying pressure buys you time! Use this time to work out what you are going to do next and what tool you're going to use for the job. Which leads us nicely onto...

S - Select your Tool. If you haven't already decided what you're doing next, or maybe you're inexperienced in major bleeding situations (which is fine and probably the case for 80% of First Responders), this is when you work out what tool you're going to use. Will you apply a tourniquet, a pressure bandage or use wound packing gauze?

E - Ensure bleeding has stopped. There's no point moving onto anything else if your patient is still leaking blood. Stop the bleeding and then you can start stabilising the airway and breathing, and work on any other injuries that may be present.

Remember, major bleeding is the first and most important thing you will need to manage if your patent has suffered a life-threatening injury. Be decisive, apply pressure, and utilise a tourniquet or other medical dressing that is especially designed to stop major bleeding. Your most important job is to stop the bleeding and stop it early!

You will know by now that Responder Wear is passionate about helping you saving lives. A quick glance at our online store shows that we only stock field tested equipment and medical supplies that help civilian first aiders make a difference when seconds count. We are particularly passionate about supplying the tools that will allow you to stem major bleeding, such as tourniquets, pressure bandages and wound packing gauze.

Check out the “Stop the Bleed” section of our web-store to see the lifesaving equipment and medical supplies we recommend that first aiders should carry.

Thanks to The Medics Lodge for inspiring this content with their recent major bleeding article.