How Long Does It Take to Bleed Out From an Artery?
A ruptured artery can cause a person to bleed out quickly if the trauma isn’t brought under control. When we refer to “bleeding out,” we’re specifically talking about death as a result of excessive, uncontrolled blood loss. Arterial bleeding is the most severe form of bleeding and consequently is the most common cause of bleeding out. So how much time does a person realistically have when this type of trauma occurs?
How Long Before Arterial Bleeding Becomes Fatal?
Without immediate intervention, a person can bleed out from an artery in as little as 2 minutes. On average, the bleed-out time varies between 2 and 5 minutes, according to information from the STOP THE BLEED campaign. This is because:
- Arterial bleeding is the most severe type of bleeding. Arteries carry blood away from the heart, and the blood inside the arteries is under constant pressure. That’s why arterial bleeding usually results in quick, rhythmic spurts. It doesn’t just trickle or flow out of the body like you would experience with capillary or venous bleeding. The blood actually shoots out of the body.
- The average human being has between 4.5 and 5.5 liters of blood circulating at any given time, and they can only afford to lose about 14% of that blood before their vital signs start to suffer. Now consider that an adult heart pumps blood at a rate of about 5 liters per minute at rest, and it’s easy to see why the situation is so urgent. Without an ample supply of oxygen-rich blood, the organs shut down and the body begins to die.
- Certain arteries are especially vulnerable to rapid bleed-outs. An injury to the aorta, femoral or carotid artery can be especially dangerous because these are the main blood vessels responsible for pulling oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body. The brachial artery (which runs through the arms) is another major concern. If one of these arteries is punctured, the trauma can result in an immediate blood pressure drop and extremely rapid blood loss.
- Arterial bleeds make clotting difficult. With most types of bleeding, the damaged blood vessel clots to prevent further blood loss. But the intensity of blood loss from an artery can inhibit the natural clotting process. That’s why it’s important to apply direct pressure. Only then can clotting occur.
Trauma is the leading cause of death among Americans younger than 45, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). And bleeding out is the No. 1 reason why physical trauma becomes fatal. The human body just isn’t meant to withstand that kind of rapid blood loss.
How to Prevent Someone From Bleeding Out
If a person punctures an artery, quick action is essential to control severe bleeding:
- Identify the urgency of the situation. If someone is bleeding from an artery, you’ll be able to tell immediately. Bright red blood will spurt out in rhythmic pulses. And even if the injury isn’t arterial, emergency intervention may still be required if the bleeding is rapid and hard to control (like a jugular vein hemorrhage, for instance).
- Grab a bleeding control kit if one is available. If you don’t have access to a bleeding kit, you can use a first aid kit. Otherwise, you’ll have to apply pressure with any cloth materials you have available.
- Have someone call 911. If you’re the only person who can call, keep the phone in speaker mode so you have both hands free to attend to the patient or injury.
- Apply direct pressure to the injury using whatever sterile dressing you have available. If the injury is to an arm or leg, elevate it above the person’s heart level to help improve blood flow back to the heart. You should wear sterile gloves while doing this.
- Wrap the wound. Wrap the dressing in roller gauze while the patient holds the dressing in place (if they’re able to do so). Use hemostatic gauze for arms or legs, or use standard gauze for other types of localized injuries. Monitor the bleeding until emergency services arrive.
If gauze and dressings alone are unable to prevent the patient from losing blood, you may need to apply a tourniquet. It’s always best to use a commercial tourniquet that’s professionally designed for safe operation. However, if you don’t have immediate access to a commercial tourniquet and the victim is bleeding out, you can use an improvised tourniquet. Improvised tourniquets are difficult to get right, so only do this as a last resort.
Acute Blood Loss Can Be Stopped
The bad news is that an artery can bleed out very quickly. The good news is that it’s usually possible to control the bleeding. By applying direct pressure to the wound or cutting off the blood supply, you can usually prevent the worst outcome from happening. You just have to control the bleeding long enough for help to arrive.
The important thing is to remain calm, remain focused, and use what you have available to minimize the amount of blood lost. Bleeding out doesn’t have to be the end result.