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The problem of blood loss

Published: 5 December 2018

Modern surgeons know how to deal with blood loss. What's surprising is that most of the methods they use are hundreds, if not thousands of years old.

Why is blood loss dangerous?

Doctors worry about blood loss for very good reasons. If the body loses more than 20% of its blood, you could go into haemorrhagic shock, which is when the heart slows down and can't circulate enough blood around the body.

Blood pressure plummets when this happens and there’s a massive drop in body temperature. If the body loses more than 40% of its blood, all the organs start to shut down and death is likely.

A Japanese woman having surgery on her chest, with copious amounts of blood Wellcome Collection
Japanese manual depicting blood loss during a surgical procedure on the breast.

Techniques for limiting blood loss

One of the primary tasks of healers past and present has been to stop blood loss. Many of the techniques used to limit blood loss were developed long ago to treat wounds received in battle. And most of them are still used by surgeons.

The 'wound man' is found in early medical manuscripts shows the types of injury.

Surgical solutions for blood loss

Although the tools used to control blood loss may have changed over time, the principles remain the same. Open blood vessels have to be permanently sealed or temporarily closed. Blood needs to be replenished and circulated to prevent shock.

Suggestions for further research