The failure to control hemorrhage is a common cause of death in trauma situations. With the increased number of active shooter events in the United States, the average citizen should have knowledge of basic methods to stop heavy bleeding. The government’s Stop The Bleed Initiative is attempting to foster awareness of the importance of this type of education.
In the April 2017 issue of the Journal of Emergency Medical Services (JEMS), Dr. Peter Taillac and EMT-P associates Scotty Bolleter and A.J. Heightman put forth their recommendations for the packing of hemorrhagic wounds with plain and/or hemostatic gauze such as Quikclot, Celox, and others. In addition, they reinforce the principles of direct pressure and tourniquet use to control bleeding and save lives.
In 2012, The American College of Surgeons (of which I’m a retired Fellow) and other organizations formed a joint commission to improve survival in heavily bleeding injuries. While endorsing direct pressure as a primary technique to reduce hemorrhage, the commission reviewed evidence for the use of hemostatic gauze, finding it to be an effective tool in 90% of cases.
Packing of wounds is useful in many situations, but not all. Wounds of the neck are problematic, for instance, due to the risk of compressing airways. Packing injuries in the abdomen, pelvis, and chest may not be effective due to the deep nature of the bleeding vessels. This is one reason why, in an off-grid setting, the death rate (called “mortality”) from these wounds is so high. Statistics from the Civil War put mortality rates for major injuries in these regions at close to 70 per cent, a figure that might be expected in long-term survival scenarios.
Tactical Combat Casualty Care guidelines approve hemostatic gauze as dressings of choice for severe bleeding. These products use materials that enhance or produce clotting. QuikClot uses Kaolin, an original ingredient in Kaopectate; Celox and Chitogauze use Chitosan, a product made from the shells of crustaceans. XStat, made by RevMedX, is preferred by TCCC for hemorrhage in areas like the axilla (armpit) and groin. A new product, Xgauze, was recently described to us by John Steinbaugh of RevMedX as an effective item to control bleeding without kaolin or chitosan, using instead expanding sponges built into the dressing itself.
According to Dr. Taillac’s team, proper packing of wounds with plain or hemostatic gauze include the following steps:
- Quickly and aggressively apply direct pressure with a gloved hand, clean dressing or cloth, or even the knee or elbow while breaking out your supplies. Explore the wound with your fingers to find the source of bleeding, using nearby bones, if possible, to increase the effectiveness of pressure.
- Tightly (and I mean, tightly) pack the wound cavity as deeply as you can while continuing to apply pressure on the bleeding vessel. Pack directly onto the vessel itself. Although hemostatic gauze is effective, sufficient pressure with plain gauze may be enough.
- Maintain pressure on the packed wound for at least 3 minutes.
- Place a tight pressure dressing (Israeli Battle Dressing, Olaes Bandage, etc.) over the whole thing.
- Splinting the wound will immobilize it and help prevent re-bleeds during transport.
The above method, along with appropriate use of tourniquets, should be effective in managing hemorrhage. If the dressings become saturated, however, it may be necessary to use more packing or to start over. A second tourniquet may also be needed. In normal times, this might best be done during transport to a modern medical facility. In long-term survival settings, get the victim to where the bulk of your supplies are.
It is thought that 1 in 5 deaths from hemorrhage may be prevented by rapid action. Know the procedure and, have no doubt, you will save lives in disasters or other times of trouble.
Joe Alton, MD
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