Have you been asking yourself about what hemostasis means? It's easy to confuse medical terms. This article will give you a clear definition of the term hemostasis.
Hemostasis refers to the cessation of blood flow. If your arm is bleeding and someone applies direct pressure, the blood will soon clot, and the hemorrhage will stop - your body has now achieved hemostasis.
Does this still sound confusing? And what about the term homeostasis? Is that the same thing? How about hemoptysis or hemothorax?
In this article, you'll get a quick crash course in medical terms. However, you'll also learn why the term hemostasis is so important and how to apply practical techniques to prevent dangerous bleeding.
The Definition of the Word Hemostasis
Here is the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of hemostasis: the arrest of bleeding.
This is a quick, succinct definition that captures the term. Hemostasis refers to stopping the flow of blood. The public is likely familiar with phrases like "Bleeding control" or "Stop the bleed." These are different terms that refer to the same thing: hemostasis.
Why not just say "stop the bleed"? Why have a fancy medical term?
In professional medicine, clear and concise language is vitally important. Though we don't always realize it, common terms and language can often be inaccurate and prone to mistakes.
For instance, like the military, the medical community usually keeps time with a 24-hour clock. Why? If you wrote 9 o'clock, it could be confused to mean nine in the evening or nine in the morning. However, if you write "21:00" (equivalent to 9 pm), the time is clear.
While a 24-hour clock is confusing at first, it makes more sense and prevents miscommunication once you begin using it. The same is true with medical terms like hemostasis.
Note: Don't confuse hemostasis with homeostasis. Homeostasis refers to maintaining equilibrium within the entire body; hemostasis just refers to the cessation of bleeding.
Breaking Down the Word Hemostasis
"Hemo-" is a prefix that means blood. "Stasis" means a period of inactivity. So, when you put the two parts together, you get blood that is no longer bleeding.
Let's try another word.
Hemorrhage, another word that has two parts. Again, "Hemo-" the first part of the word, means blood. The second part of the word comes from the term "orrhagia," which means excessive flow. Place the two words together, and you get Hemorrhage - excessive bleeding.
These are just a few examples of how medical words are made. There are entire college classes dedicated to medical terminology! But hopefully, these examples gave you some insight.
The Four Stages of Hemostasis
At Medical Gear Outfitters, we're all about teaching and equipping people to save lives. So, learning how a bleed happens will give you a better understanding of how to control the bleed. Hemostasis doesn't just happen spontaneously.
Here are the four stages of hemostasis:
- Vasoconstriction (the blood vessels contract and tighten). After a cut to a blood vessel, the first response is constriction. Vessels can constrict quite a bit. If there was a clean-cut to a vessel, it's much easier to control the bleed.
- Platelet clot. Platelets are small components of your blood that quickly group to form a clot. Aspirin, often taken to lower the risk of heart attack, inhibits the ability of the platelets to form an initial clot.
- Clotting cascade. The clotting cascade is a series of reactions that activate when your body begins to bleed.
- Fibrin clot. This final clot is more durable and sets the stage for the blood vessel and surrounding tissue to heal fully. Also, the final clot helps protect the wound from further infection.
Hopefully, this guide gave you some sense of the nature of hemostasis. In the next section, we will discuss several practices of applying hemostasis in the real world.
Examples of Hemostasis
The body has been stopping the bleed itself long before humans knew about modern tourniquets and surgical techniques. However, sometimes, the body benefits from practical intervention.
If you cut your finger, your body knows how to prevent yourself from exsanguination (bleeding out). However, if you accidentally strike your shin with a hatchet, your body may not be able to stop the bleeding before the blood loss reaches life-threatening levels.
Here are several examples of hemostasis in medicine:
- Direct pressure. By holding direct pressure over a bleed, you create greater pressure outside the wound, essentially holding the blood inside and giving the body time to form a clot. If you're curious to learn more about direct pressure, see the article on bleeding control and common mistakes when trying to stop the bleed.
- Pressure dressing. A pressure dressing will hold direct pressure for the responder so that they can focus on other life-saving tasks (like rescue breathing and airway management). Check out our article on pressure dressings for more information if you're curious.
- Tourniquet. First responders and civilians can be trained to apply a tourniquet. The tourniquet rapidly constricts the blood vessels, letting you immediately stop the bleeding. Check out the article on tourniquets for more information.
- Surgical intervention. Trauma surgeons are trained to handle internal bleeding. Through many years of training, they can find and control a bleed within the abdomen or thoracic cavity.
- Pharmacologic intervention. There are various medications on the market that work to speed up the clotting process. One such medication used is called tranexamic acid or TXA. TXA works by preventing the body from breaking down clots.
- Hemostatic dressing. Hemostatics can be impregnated into the gauze and placed on a bleeding wound. These dressings, like Combat gauze, have been shown to stop bleeding faster than regular gauze. However, you still must implore good bleeding control practices.
Now, let's go over a quick guide to the tools and techniques you need to know to perform bleeding control.
How to Perform Manual Hemostasis (Bleeding Control)
Before we go, let's go over several steps to performing bleeding control and helping the body compensate.
Here are the steps to bleeding control:
- Safety. If you can, wear gloves and eye protection. In the emergency setting, this isn't always possible. However, in a controlled environment, you should take every precaution. It only takes one drop of blood to cause infection.
- Find the wound. Make sure you find out exactly where the bleeding is coming from. It might look like the blood is coming from the ankle when really it is originating from the knee. You must apply pressure at the sight of bleeding!
- Apply firm pressure. Apply more pressure than you might think. You're not trying to hide the bleeding; you're trying to stop it.
- Use hemostatic gauze. If the bleeding is in the groin, neck, or axilla (armpit), consider packing the wound with a hemostatic dressing. The hemostatic gauze will speed up the clotting process.
- Use a tourniquet. This step can come first if you see serious bleeding (think red, spurting blood). However, if you're unsure, start with firm direct pressure, and be ready to use the tourniquet at any moment.
If you're curious, check out these links to videos on bleeding control:
- How to estimate blood loss
- A tourniquet or wound packing
- We have been doing basic bleeding control wrong
Hopefully, these videos will help you in your quest to understand hemostasis. Learning to control a bleed is one of the most important, fundamental aspects of emergency care.
Key Takeaway on Hemostasis
Hemostasis refers to stopping the flow of blood. The human body has complex systems to stop a bleed without any help. However, when the bleeding is bad enough, practical techniques may be needed to achieve hemostasis.
By learning the process of hemostasis, you place yourself in a better position to treat a dangerous bleed. Everyone should consider taking a live first-aid course. Live training will give you hands-on experience with stopping the bleed.
Note: Nothing in this article is meant to supersede your local laws or protocols surrounding bleeding control.