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What is mild, moderate and severe bleeding?

Keith Roach, MD
Internal Medicine
Mild bleeding describes an everyday occurrence – a small cut from a slipped knife or from shaving, or a nosebleed. The body is normally able to stop these quickly through platelets, a special blood cell, and through clotting factors. Mild bleeding can be handled at home with a bandage.

Moderate bleeding usually involves a larger blood vessel than a small bleed. The cut may have unluckily gone through a vein, or it may be that a small bleed can continue to bleed due to deficiencies in the clotting systems. Aspirin in particular can make a small bleed into a moderate bleed. Moderate bleeding can usually be taken care of at home with direct pressure, often for several minutes until bleeding stops, then a pressure bandage. Bleeding that cannot be controlled this way requires medical attention.

Severe bleeding is often life-threatening. All bleeding can be both internal or external, but internal bleeding, because it may not be recognized and can’t be easily stopped, is more serious. Severe bleeds include lacerations to arteries, serious internal bleeding or a major injury over an extended area. Severe bleeding needs immediate medical attention.
Dr. Darria Long Gillespie, MD
Emergency Medicine
Most of us have had a cut in our lives with bleeding, but the majority of people have (fortunately) never had such a cut that required an ER visit. Mild bleeding stops either on its own (without you having to do anything) or with a few minutes of pressure. Examples include a slight scrape, a cut while shaving or pricking your finger on a thorn. Injuries with mild bleeding typically only involve washing well with water and soap, and a small Band Aid. Moderate bleeding is due to a more significant injury, with bleeding that slows or stops with pressure, but starts again if you remove pressure. It may also soak through several bandages, but the key here is that it still does stop with pressure. People with this amount of bleeding have typically either injured a blood vessel, or are taking blood thinners such as aspirin or warfarin. Examples of moderate bleeding can include a nosebleed that starts back as soon as you take off pressure, a cut to the scalp (often from a fall) or other deeper cut to the body. In many cases, pressure for 10 minutes or so to the area can stop the bleeding, in which case a bandage is sufficient. Of note: If you do use a pressure bandage that is tight or squeezing, do not leave it in a single position for 30 minutes or longer, especially on a child or elderly person. Doing so can damage the blood flow to tissues beyond the bandage. Severe bleeding is the most dangerous and may be pumping, does not stop nor slow with pressure or soaks through one bandage after another. This amount of bleeding is usually due to injury to either an artery (blood vessels under the greatest amount of pressure) or large vein, and requires emergency treatment.  

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