Hemorrhage

What is a Hemorrhage?

The term hemorrhage is used to describe any excessive and hard to control bleeding. From a gash on the head to a complication of birth, hemorrhages can threaten your life or at least drain your system through sheer blood loss. The location and type of bleeding determines the severity of the problem.

For example, brain hemorrhaging is a type of stroke that can cause you to lose your ability to speak and your physical coordination. Major hemorrhaging involves an injury that is losing a lot of blood.

What are the Symptoms of a Hemorrhage?

External bleeding occurs when blood leaks from an incision or break in the skin (sores, wounds, cuts, abrasions…) or natural openings (mouth, nose, ear or urethra, vagina, anus). In this case, hemorrhaging itself can be a symptom of a traumatic injury or medical condition.

Symptoms include

Internal bleeding can have traumatic or medical causes and the type and location determines the symptoms. For example, emergency symptoms of a brain hemorrhage include:

  • Seizures with no previous history
  • Numbness and muscle weakness
  • Loss of balance and coordination
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Speech impediment
  • Nausea
  • Vision changes

Subconjunctival hemorrhaging is a much less serious form of bleeding that occurs in the eye. This problem leads to:

  • Bright red coloration of the white of the eye
  • Coloration that lasts up to two weeks before fading

Excessive bleeding can lead to hypovolemia, a life-threatening decrease in the total volume of blood in the circulatory system. Blood loss is classified into four different classes that go from loss of 15% of the total volume for class I to over 40% for class IV. Class I hemorrhaging in healthy individuals usually does not have repercussions on vital signs. A larger volume of leaked blood can lead to exsanguination (death by excessive loss of blood).

Hemorrhage Causes

A hemorrhage is a profuse bout of external or internal bleeding originating from blood vessels, with the most obvious cause being an injury or trauma to a particular blood vessel. Hemorrhages are also caused by weak spots or aneurysms in a person’s arterial wall, which can often be present at birth.

As time passes, the walls of a blood vessel at an aneurysm’s location becomes thinner, bulging out in a fashion similar to water balloons when blood passes through them, making the vessels likely to rupture and leak, developing a hemorrhage. Some contributors to hemorrhages are high blood pressure, or hypertension, especially when it comes to brain hemorrhages, which can potentially cause a stroke.

On occasion, vessels can just wear out over time, causing a hemorrhage. Those with uncontrolled diabetes also tend to have weakened blood vessels, particularly in the eyes; this is what is known as retinopathy. Several bleeding disorders may also cause hemorrhages including hemophilia, an inherited condition that prevents a person’s blood from clotting properly.

How is a Hemorrhage Treated?

Bleeding is usually stopped with hemostasis which can be carried out with simple first-aid maneuvers or require surgery according to location and severity.

Most hemorrhages, aside from the kind that occur in the eye, need emergency treatment.

Brain bleeding due to a stroke can quickly become fatal or cause you to fall into a permanent coma.

Blood loss from a wound, especially on the head or neck, leads to dropping blood pressure that shuts down both the heart and brain. Emergency room doctors stabilize external bleeding with pressure and tourniquets, then follow up with stitches or surgery to close the wound. Brain bleeding is usually treated with medication to reduce pressure, but emergency surgery is sometimes necessary to reduce swelling as quickly as possible. Postpartum hemorrhaging requires immediate surgery in almost every case.

Hemorrhage Prevention

Regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, reducing your sodium intake, maintaining a healthy weight, and taking all prescribed medication as directed can help prevent hemorrhages. Also, abstaining from drug use can reduce the chances of brain hemorrhages, as amphetamines, cocaine, and alcohol are often associated with brain hemorrhages in young people.

Consistently wearing helmets when skateboarding, bicycling, and rollerblading, as well as wearing seatbelts in cars can prevent head injuries and, consequently, hemorrhages. Vitamin B12 deficiencies have been linked to hemorrhages and vitamin B12 supplements can counteract this issue. Remember when experiencing a hemorrhage, stopping the bleeding is essential. Any hemorrhage caused due to trauma or torn blood vessels should be treated by medical professionals. Addressing issues of high blood pressure can also reduce the frequency of hemorrhages that are a result of vessel leakage.

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Last Reviewed:
September 14, 2016
Last Updated:
January 10, 2018