How to treat severe bleeding

If this is an emergency, please call 000 immediately.

What is severe bleeding?

Send for help early by calling triple zero (000) for an ambulance.

Bleeding should be managed as severe and life-threatening if it cannot be controlled by firm, direct and continuous pressure, and/or there are signs of shock.

If it is obvious that severe and life-threatening bleeding is present, controlling bleeding before the airway and breathing can be lifesaving.

This guide is regularly updated and aligns with the current edition of Australian First Aid (4th edition, 7/2011)

Signs and Symptoms


As well as the obvious sign of blood coming from a wound, signs and symptoms of severe bleeding include:

      • Weak, rapid pulse
      • Pale, cool, moist skin
      • Pallor, sweating
      • Rapid, gasping breathing
      • Restlessness
      • Nausea
      • Thirst
      • Faintness, dizziness or confusion
      • Loss of consciousness.

What to do




Apply gloves if available. Help the patient to lie down. Remove or cut the patient’s clothing to expose the wound.


Apply firm, direct and continuous pressure on the bleeding wound initially with your hands until the bleeding stops. The patient or a bystander can do this.


When available, apply a pad or dressing in or directly over the wound and apply firm, direct and continuous pressure until the bleeding stops.

  • If an object is embedded in or protruding from a wound, apply pressure on either side of the wound and place pads around the object before bandaging.

Once bleeding is controlled secure the pad by bandaging firmly, ensuring the pad remains directly over the wound. Observe for any further bleeding.

Continue to check the patient’s vital signs (consciousness, breathing and pulse) and look for recurrence of bleeding. Do not give the patient anything to eat or drink.

If the bleeding is not controlled and:

  • The bleeding is on a limb, apply an arterial tourniquet (if available) and tightened until the bleeding stops. Advise the patient that this will cause pain.
  • The bleeding is not on a limb, remove existing dressings and apply a haemostatic dressing (if available) in or directly over the wound and apply firm, direct and continuous pressure until the bleeding stops.

Call Triple Zero (000) for an ambulance.



Severe bleeding fact sheet

DRSABCD poster

Related advice

How to perform CPR on an adult

If an adult is unresponsive and not breathing normally, you need to call 000 for emergency help and start CPR straight away. Learn what to do.

First Aid Kits

A first aid kit is an essential item for the home, workplace and vehicles. This fact sheet identifies a checklist so you can ensure your first aid kit is stocked and ready for an emergency.

DRSABCD Action Plan

The St John DRSABCD Action Plan is crucial in assessing whether a patient has any life-threatening conditions and if any immediate first aid is necessary.

Courses that teach this skill

✮ Most Popular Course

Provide First Aid

For both those in workplaces and members of the public who would like a comprehensive first aid course.

1 day face-to-face, Assessment Only, and our 100% online options available.

✮ Popular Course


For those wanting to learn CPR, maintain their competence, or refresh their existing skills.

2 hour face-to-face plus pre-learning, Assessment Only and our 100% online course options available.

✮ Popular Course

Occupational First Aid

For those in high-risk work environments, high-risk remote locations, or undertaking high-risk work activities such as operating heavy machinery.
3.5 and 4.5 day face-to-face with
pre-learning, and our Assessment Only course options available.

Equipment used