Chapter 2: Complex medical situations

Arterial bleed, hemorrhage or exsanguination

Although rare, a life-ending bleed can occur. The risk is commonly linked to tumor invasion of an artery or vessel, but may also be caused by disease-related factors like impaired blood cells. The bleed may be internal or external, rapid or slow. If it occurs rapidly, the patient will lose consciousness in seconds or minutes. A slow bleed may occur over several hours, and loss of consciousness will progress more gradually.

 A life-ending bleed, particularly if external, can be frightening and distressing to witness. If there’s a known risk for a life-ending bleed, health care providers will often attempt to prepare the patient and family for this possibility and what to expect. Having dark towels on hand can help to limit the trauma for the family.