Venous Bleeding vs Arterial Bleeding Overview

venous bleeding vs arterial bleeding

Life-threatening bleeding is an emergency that most people can learn how to recognize and treat. When faced with a serious bleeding situation, knowing the difference between arterial bleeding and venous bleeding can help you stabilize the patient more effectively before professional help arrives.

Difference Between Arterial Bleeding and Venous Bleeding

There are three major differences between arterial bleeding and venous bleeding. These differences are:

  1. Source
  2. Appearance
  3. Severity

Recognizing these differences and what they mean will help you work out which type of bleeding you’re dealing with so you can proceed with the most appropriate course of treatment.

Source of the Bleeding

Arterial bleeding is bleeding from a damaged artery. Arteries carry oxygenated blood away from the heart to the rest of the body. These vessels are under much greater pressure, and tend to be of larger diameter. As a result, a bleed from an artery is much more serious and more likely to be life threatening. These arterial vessels are more protected in the body by running beneath veins, deeper under the skin, though they run closer to the surface in critical areas such as the wrists, neck, and groin, making these areas more vulnerable to serious bleeding injuries.

Venous bleeding is bleeding from a damaged vein. Veins carry deoxygenated blood from the body back to the heart. They are smaller in diameter, under much less pressure, more numerous, and run closer to the surface. As a result, the majority of minor cuts are venous in nature, and venous bleeding is generally less serious.

Appearance of the Blood

Arterial bleeding looks like bright red blood. This bright red color is due to the oxygen-rich content. When arteries are bleeding, you may see a spurting motion as the blood is pushed out by each heart beat.

Because veins carry deoxygenated blood back to the heart, the color of this blood is a dark red or maroon color. Look for a steady stream of blood instead of a pulsing bleed.


A damaged artery is typically a more urgent and severe injury due to the high pressure of blood flow. The heart continues to pump blood out of the wound even after the artery is broken which, if left untreated, can lead to shock, organ failure, and death in a matter of minutes. A significant amount of blood loss can happen rapidly without prompt medical treatment.

Veins are under less pressure due to the fact that they are carrying blood toward the heart. Venous bleeding tends to be less severe than arterial bleeding. However, it can still be life-threatening.

A Note About Capillary Bleeding

Another type of bleeding is capillary bleeding. This kind of bleeding occurs with every skin injury. Capillaries are very, very small blood vessels that barely fit one red blood cell. The function of capillaries is to connect arteries and veins and to facilitate the exchange of specific elements between the blood and body tissues. 

Capillary bleeding is the least serious and is the easiest to control. Because of the superficial nature of capillary bleeding, the blood usually oozes or trickles out of the body and stops quickly either with or without direct pressure. Capillary bleeding rarely requires professional medical attention.

Treatment for Different Types of Bleeding

Having the skills to provide rapid treatment in an emergency raises the victim’s chances of survival. Once a first responder notices and understands the differences between the three types of bleeding, he or she can respond more effectively.

Arterial Traumatic Injury Treatment

It can take as little as two minutes to bleed out from an artery. Due to the seriousness of this kind of injury, act quickly to stop the bleeding. Take the following steps for arterial bleeding:

  1. Apply direct pressure. Apply direct pressure to the wound and ask someone nearby to call emergency responders. Use sterile equipment, gloves, and gauze if available. If unavailable, use whatever you can find quickly. Hemostatic gauze—such as QuikClot or NuStat—is especially good to have on hand in these situations because it accelerates the clotting process. This product can be used on wounds in every area of the body except the head, eye, chest, and abdomen.
  2. Elevate the extremities. For bleeding in the arms or legs, lay the person down on their back and raise the extremity above their heart. Try to keep the victim in this position until help arrives.
  3. Add more gauze or cloth if needed. Continue to apply direct pressure. If the blood has soaked through the first piece of gauze or cloth, add more on top of the first one and press down firmly. Gauze can be purchased ahead of time from an online trauma supplies store or a pharmacy. A bleeding control kit is a specialized alternative to a first aid kit that contains all the necessary tools to control life-threatening bleeding (including various kinds of gauze and a tourniquet). This is an excellent resource to have on hand at all times.
  4. Monitor the bleeding. Monitor the bleeding for several seconds to see if it slows down, stops, or seeps through the gauze. Our article explaining how to determine if bleeding is life-threatening will help you recognize severe bleeding quickly. If the blood is soaking through the gauze and the wound is on an arm or leg, move on to step 5. 
  5. Apply a tourniquet. Place the tourniquet a couple of inches above the wound and above the joint if the wound is near a joint. Tighten the windlass until the bleeding stops. Secure it in place. Write down on the tourniquet the time it was put on. Once the bleeding slows significantly or stops, wrap the wound in roller gauze to secure the wound dressings in place.
  6. Remain with the victim until further emergency help arrives.

Venous Injury Treatment

Follow the same steps as for arterial bleeding to stop venous bleeding. Venous bleeding is typically easier to control than arterial blood flow. However, if the injured vein is deep, the bleeding can be hard to stop and even become life-threatening. 

Apply direct pressure immediately and proceed to a tourniquet if the bleeding doesn’t respond to firm pressure and is located on an extremity.

Capillary Injury Treatment

Capillary bleeding is usually superficial and will stop on its own. However, you can use a clean pad or bandage to apply pressure and stop the bleeding more quickly. 

It is important to note that if the blood continues to flow or the victim becomes dizzy, call the emergency services and apply emergency bleeding protocols as there may be a more serious issue.

The Right Response to Bleeding Injuries

Knowing the differences between arterial and venous bleeding can be helpful for making quick and confident decisions when every second counts. An injury to the arteries is usually the most critical as the heart-pumping action intensifies the amount of blood lost. Venous injuries can be just as life-threatening but usually are somewhat easier to control.

Extreme, heavy blood loss is an urgent medical emergency and requires immediate action. Knowing the steps to take under pressure before medical professionals arrive can save lives. Take the time to learn these techniques and stock up on trauma supplies to be ready for all types of bleeding emergencies.

Brian Graddon
Article written by

Brian Graddon

Brian is a former Firefighter Paramedic who also worked as a SWAT Medic, Engineer, and Captain over a 15-year career. Brian is devoted to providing life-saving information based on his first hand experience in life-saving application of tourniquets, hemostatic gauze, chest seals and other bleeding control products.

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