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What causes bleeding? 36 possible conditions

What is Bleeding?

Bleeding is the name commonly used to describe blood loss. It can refer to blood loss inside the body (internal bleeding) or blood loss outside of the body (external bleeding).

Blood loss can occur in almost any area of the body. Typically, internal bleeding occurs when blood leaks out through damage to a blood vessel or organ. External bleeding occurs either when blood exits through a break in the skin, or when blood exits through a natural opening in the body, such as the mouth, vagina, or rectum.

What Are the Common Causes of Bleeding?

Bleeding is a very common symptom that can be caused by a variety of incidents or conditions. Possible causes include:

Traumatic Bleeding

Traumatic bleeding is caused by an injury. Injuries can vary in severity, but most will cause bleeding to some degree. Common types of traumatic injury include:

  • abrasions or grazes that do not penetrate below the skin
  • hematoma or bruises
  • lacerations or incisions
  • puncture wounds from items such as a needle or knife
  • crushing injuries
  • gunshot wounds (caused by a weapon such as a gun)

Medical Conditions

There are also a number of medical conditions that can cause bleeding. This is generally rarer than traumatic bleeding but can still happen to varying degrees. Conditions that can cause bleeding include:

  • haemophilia
  • leukemia
  • liver disease
  • menorrhagia
  • thrombocytopenia
  • Von Willebrand’s disease
  • vitamin K deficiency
  • brain trauma
  • bowel obstruction
  • congestive heart failure
  • lung cancer
  • acute bronchitis


Some medicines can increase your chances of bleeding or even cause bleeding. Typically, you will be warned about this and advised what to do when you are first prescribed the medication.

Medications that may be responsible for bleeding include:

  • blood-thinning medications
  • antibiotics, when used on a long-term basis
  • radiation therapy

Emergency Issues

If bleeding is severe, call an ambulance immediately. You should also seek emergency help if you suspect internal bleeding, as this can quickly become life threatening.

People who suffer from bleeding disorders or take blood thinners should also seek emergency help in order to stop the bleeding as quickly as possible.

Seek medical help if:

  • the person has gone into shock or has a fever
  • the bleeding cannot be controlled using pressure
  • the wound requires a tourniquet
  • the bleeding was caused by a serious injury
  • the wound may need stitches to stop bleeding
  • foreign objects are stuck inside the wound
  • the wound appears to be becoming infected (such as swelling or leaking a yellow or brown fluid, or has redness)
  • the injury occurred due to a bite from an animal or human.

When you call for help, the emergency services will advise you on what to do and of their approximate arrival time. In most cases, you will be advised to continue to put pressure on the wound and to keep reassuring the patient. You may also be told to lay the person down to reduce the risk of fainting.

How Is Bleeding Treated?

When treating bleeding, it is important to find out why the bleeding is occurring and then to stop it as quickly as possible. If the bleeding is caused by a medical condition, emergency care will be needed immediately.

First Aid for Traumatic Bleeding

It is possible to treat external traumatic bleeding. Be sure to seek emergency help if the patient fits any of the criteria above, or if you need help to stop the bleeding.

First, try to calm the injured person, and reassure him or her. Bleeding can be very scary, and reassurance is essential to avoid shock.

Lay the person down as soon as possible to reduce the risk of fainting. Try to elevate the area that is bleeding, if possible.

Remove loose debris and foreign particles carefully from the wound. Leave large items such as knives, arrows or weapons where they are. Removing these objects can cause further harm and will likely increase the bleeding. In this case, use bandages and pads to keep the object in place and absorb the bleeding.

Use a clean cloth, bandage, clothing, or your hands to put pressure directly onto the wound.

Maintain a medium pressure until the bleeding has slowed, and eventually stops.

Do not remove the cloth when bleeding stops. Use an adhesive tape or clothing to wrap around the dressing and hold it in place.

Place a cold pack over the wound.

Do not look at the wound to see if bleeding has stopped, as this can disturb the wound and cause it to begin bleeding again.

Do not remove the cloth from the wound, even if blood seeps through the material. Add more material on top, and continue the pressure.

Do not move anyone with a head, neck, back, or leg injury. Do not apply pressure to an eye injury.

Tourniquets should only be used as a last resort. Ideally, a tourniquet should be applied by an experienced person. If a tourniquet is needed, follow these steps:

  • Identify where to place the tourniquet. It should be applied to a limb between the heart and the bleeding.
  • Make the tourniquet using bandages, if possible. Wrap them around the limb, and tie a half knot. Ensure there is enough room to tie another knot with the loose ends.
  • A stick or rod should be placed between the two knots.
  • Twist the stick to tighten the bandage.
  • Secure the tourniquet in place with tape or cloth.
  • Check the tourniquet every 10 minutes. If the bleeding slows enough to be sufficiently controllable with pressure, release the tourniquet and apply direct pressure instead.

Medical Care

If bleeding is caused by a serious injury, bleeding cannot be controlled, or if the bleeding is internal, you will need emergency medical care.

Typically, paramedics will attempt to control the bleeding before rushing you to hospital. In some cases, care might be given at home or by using a stretcher. The treatment required will depend on the cause of the bleeding.

In rare cases, surgery may be required to stop bleeding.

What Are the Consequences of Untreated Bleeding?

Anyone who experiences unexplained bleeding should be seen by a medical professional.

Traumatic bleeding

If bleeding is caused by an injury or accident, it may be stopped with minor first aid. Typically, the wound will then heal naturally and no further care is needed.

Medical bleeding

If bleeding is caused by a medical condition, and the condition is not identified or diagnosed, the bleeding is likely to reoccur.

Any bleeding that is allowed to continue without medical treatment could potentially cause bleeding to death. Typically, people need to lose between one-third and one-half of their total blood before they bleed to death. Bleeding to death is a very uncommon way for humans to die.

Exsanguination (bleeding to death) can occur without any external bleeding. Catastrophic internal hemorrhages can cause a great deal of blood loss, as can aneurysms.

Article Sources:

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.


Open Wound

An open wound is an injury involving an external or internal break in body tissue, usually involving the skin. Nearly everyone will experience an open wound at some point in his or her life.

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Hemorrhoids, also called piles, are swollen veins located around the anus or in the lower rectum. Internal hemorrhoids develop within the anus; external hemorrhoids develop outside of the anus. Of the two forms...

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Menstrual Problems

Menstrual cycles often bring about a wide array of uncomfortable symptoms leading up to your period. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) encompasses the most common issues, such as mild cramping and fatigue, but the symptom...

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Low Platelet Count (Thrombocytopenia)

A low platelet count, also called thrombocytopenia, affects your blood's ability to clot. This can cause red, purple, or brown bruising, prolonged bleeding, and nosebleeds.

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Hemophilia is an inherited bleeding disorder in which a person lacks or has low levels of certain proteins called clotting factors, and as a result the blood does not clot properly. There are 13 types of clottin...

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Christmas Disease (Hemophilia B)

Also called hemophilia B or factor IX hemophilia, Christmas disease is a rare genetic disorder in which your blood does not clot properly. A common symptom is unexplained or excessive bruising.

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Factor VII Deficiency

Factor VII deficiency is a blood clotting disorder due to a deficiency in factor VII, a protein produced in the liver. It can cause bruising and soft tissue bleeding.

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Factor X Deficiency

Factor X deficiency, also called Stuart-Prower factor deficiency, is a condition caused by not having enough of the protein known as factor X (ten) in your blood. A common symptom is easy bruising.

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Hypovolemic Shock

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Hypovolemic shock (hemorrhagic shock) is a life-threatening condition that results when you lose more than 20 percent of your body's blood or fluid supply, preventing the heart from pumping sufficient blood to your body.

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This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A fracture is a broken bone that typically occurs when a bone is impacted by more force or pressure than it can support. In an open fracture, the ends of the broken bone tear the skin.

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Factor V Deficiency

Factor V deficiency is a very rare blood clotting disorder also known as Owren's disease or parahemophilia. It results in slow or prolonged blood clotting, bruising, and nosebleeds.

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Animal Bite

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

An animal bite can break the skin, resulting in a puncture wound or an open wound. Bites that don't break the skin can cause bruising due to ruptured blood vessels under the skin.

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Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC)

Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) is a rare, life-threatening condition that prevents blood from clotting normally. The blood clots reduce blood flow and can block blood from reaching bodily organs. Thi...

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Threatened Abortion

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Threatened abortion describes vaginal bleeding in early pregnancy. It could indicate risk of miscarriage. During miscarriage, women may have abdominal and lower back pain, and may pass clot-like material from the vagina.

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Bleeding Esophageal Varices

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Bleeding esophageal varices occur when swollen veins in your lower esophagus rupture and bleed due to excess pressure. This condition is a medical emergency and must be dealt with promptly.

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Peptic Ulcer

Peptic ulcers are painful sores in the lining of the stomach, esophagus, or small intestine. Peptic ulcers are a fairly common health problem.

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Dysfunctional Uterine Bleeding (DUB)

DUB is a condition that causes vaginal bleeding to occur outside a woman's regular menstrual cycle. It may be accompanied by bloating and breast tenderness.

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Dissection of the Aorta

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

The aorta is a large artery that carries blood out of your heart. If you experience a dissection of the aorta, it means that blood has entered the wall of the artery, between the inner and middle layers. This can happe...

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Stomach Ulcer

Stomach ulcers are painful sores in the stomach lining or small intestine. They occur when the mucus that protects the stomach from digestive juices is reduced.

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Hemophilia A

Hemophilia A (factor VIII deficiency) is the most common form of the blood clotting disorder hemophilia. It can cause prolonged bleeding, tight joints, and unexplained bruising.

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.