What are the Three Types of Bleeding?

Severe bleeding is a life-threatening emergency situation. Major blood loss can lead to the development of shock and the collapse of the patient’s cardiovascular system. In this first aid blog post we will discuss the three major types of bleeding a first aider may encounter. The medical term for bleeding is hemorrhage.

To keep blood moving continuously through the body the circulatory system requires three elements:

  • A functioning pump (the heart)
  • Adequate fluid volume (blood and body fluids)
  • A system of pipes, capable of adjustments in response to changes to the pump output and fluid volume (blood vessels)

All three of these elements must interact efficiently and effectively to maintain life.

The term bleeding covers a massive range of situations, from a small cut to a deep knife wound that severs an artery to ruptured internal organs from colliding with a steering wheel during a motor vehicle collision.  

Broadly, bleeding can be divided into three categories depending on the blood vessels that have been damaged.

The three main types of blood vessel

Arterial bleeding

Typically bleeding from an open artery is bright red in color due to the high oxygen content and spurts (pulsates) in time with the contractions of the heart.  The pressure causing the spurt also makes this type of bleeding difficult to control.  As blood volume drops so will the patient’s blood pressure and eventually, the arterial spurting will decrease due to the low blood volume.

Venous bleeding

Bleeding from an open vein is much darker red color due to the low oxygen content and flows more steadily.  As venous blood is under less pressure it does not spurt and is easier to manage. However, major venous bleeding (for example, a burst varicose vein), can still be life-threatening as large veins carry significant volumes of blood.

Capillary bleeding

Bleeding from damaged capillary vessels is dark red and will ooze from the wound slowly but steadily. This type of bleeding often stops with no medical intervention as the body forms a clot.

How to stop bleeding

Application of direct pressure over a bleeding wound stops blood from flowing from damaged vessels, giving platelets time to seal the vessel wall. Where possible use a sterile dressing directly over the wound and a gloved hand to apply pressure to the dressing. Secure the dressing in place with a bandage.

If bleeding continues, leave the original dressing in place and apply another over the top, securing with another bandage.

It is good practice to always assess the pulse beyond the injury after applying a pressure dressing to ensure the bandage is not too tight. The rate of bleeding from an extremity can be substantially slowed by elevating it above the level of the heart. This method alone will not control bleeding but when combined with pressure it will be a helpful addition.

John Furst

JOHN FURST is an experienced emergency medical technician and qualified first aid and CPR instructor. John is passionate about first aid and believes everyone should have the skills and confidence to take action in an emergency situation.

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