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Blood Clotters

SWAT medics report their findings on high-tech hemostatic dressings used to stop bleeding when seconds count.

August 01, 2004  |  by Dr. L. Heiskell, Dr. B T. Olesnicky, & Dr. S. Vail

In Afghanistan during Operation Anaconda on March 4, 2002, Air Force combat medic Jason Cunningham was shot several times, and while saving fellow comrades he bled to death an hour before help arrived. The same has happened to countless police officers unable to immediately reach medical attention.

Medical personnel have known for years that approximately 80 percent of combat deaths occur within 30 minutes of wounding, often because of loss of blood.

Bleeding, or acute hemorrhage in medical terms, is a leading cause of death in trauma cases among the civilian population. And that includes police officers. If you can stop the bleeding you can save lives.

In both law enforcement and military operations, gunshot wound victims under certain situations may be prevented from being immediately evacuated. Police officers are often first on the scene of a shooting or motor vehicle accident, where effective and immediate early hemorrhage control (hemostasis) is essential to saving lives. This becomes even more important when an injured officer must be able to effectively self-apply a bandage without assistance or control the bleeding of a fellow officer or injured victim.

New hemostatic bandages currently being marketed contain agents that make blood clot more quickly than the body can on its own. The faster the blood clots, the less blood is lost and the better chance the victim has to survive. Recently, tactical medics, both law enforcement and military, have had success with this new technology.

Hemostatic Bandages

Currently, there are several new bloodclotting hemostatic bandages on the market or being tested. Each takes a different approach to stopping bleeding, and each has advantages and disadvantages. Anyone who can apply a bandage can use these products. Within reason, this covers just about everyone in medicine, the military, and law enforcement.

The benefits are lives saved, at least in theory. Therefore, the topic is a must for unbiased discussion.

Blood clotting is the body’s way of closing a wound to prevent blood loss.

For small wounds, a clot begins to form a mesh of platelets and blood cells within one to two minutes.

If, however, the wound is large and the blood flow is under pressure, such as in a wound to the femoral artery in the thigh, the normal clotting mechanism fails to stop the bleeding, and the victim can bleed to death within a few minutes.

Hemostatic bandages are made to supplement the body’s clotting process to stop bleeding.

Readers are strongly urged to carefully conduct their own investigation to determine what is best for their agency, team, and level of training. It should also be noted that the information in this article was obtained from the manufacturers, representatives from the companies, and from physicians, surgeons, and medics who have actually used these products on the battlefield.


HemCon Bandage is manufactured by Hem-Con Inc. of Tigard, Ore. It uses a material called Chitosan, a biodegradable, nontoxic, complex carbohydrate of chitin, which is found in the exoskeletons of shellfish.

It will not cause an allergic reaction, according to product literature. A recent study by the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research looked at the effectiveness of a chitosan-based hemostatic dressing to prevent blood loss in swine. Based on the results, the team concluded that a chitosan dressing reduced hemorrhage and improved survival after severe liver injury in swine and that further studies are warranted.

The bandage is designed for immediate hemorrhage control and is deployable by an injured soldier, combat medic, or an untrained first responder. The bandage has been tested in animal models of severe bleeding by the U.S. Army and other laboratories.

Company literature claims HemCon is superior to all known hemorrhage dressings. But John Hagman, M.D., medical director for the FBI Hostage rescue team, reported at the December 2003 Special Operations Medical Association (SOMA) conference in Orlando, Fla., that a recent study completed for the U.S. Air Force showed HemCon had a significant failure rate.

The disadvantage for most agencies is the price. One package of five, 4x4-inch bandages is packaged in a sterile foil pouch and is priced at $495. In addition, the product has only a six month shelf life.


QuikClot is manufactured by Z-Medica of Newington, Conn. According to product literature, newspaper articles, and press releases from Z-Medica, Quik- Clot was used extensively during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The active ingredient in the product is called granular zeolite, a substance derived from lava rocks. When this material is placed into a bleeding wound, it absorbs the water molecules in the blood and creates a high platelet concentration to promote clotting. This causes an exothermic reaction. In other words, it gives off heat.

Several U.S. Navy physicians who served in Iraq report that QuikClot produces sufficient heat to cause burns to the skin if measures are not taken to wipe off water, sweat, and excess blood from the wound and skin before use. In fact, Navy Corpsmen that served with Marine combat units in Iraq reported they observed “second-degree burns” in Iraqi soldiers treated with QuikClot.

QuikClot concentrates clotting factors in the blood by promoting extremely rapid adsorption of fluids in and around the wound, creating a matrix for clot formation.

As per product literature instructions, QuikClot is to be poured directly onto an open bleeding wound where it promotes formation of a stable powerful clot. The clot, according to Z-Medica, is then easily removed through suction or irrigation of the wound when the patient arrives at a care facility.

The exact formula of QuikClot is proprietary, but it contains no biological or botanical material, thus decreasing the chance of an allergic reaction.

Although some organizations are not completely sold on QuikClot, the Navy and Marines performed a limited study using a swine model and were impressed with the results enough to issue the product to combat medics serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In a press release packet sent to us from Z-Medica dated April 9, 2003, company Vice President Bart Gullong was quoted saying, “Based on QuikClot’s performance in Operation Iraqi Freedom, we are now gearing up production to accommodate even faster worldwide adoption of it by all first responders: police, firefighters, EMTs, and anyone who is first on the scene of a severe bleeding injury.”

In contrast, Brian Drummond MC, USNR, who served as the surgeon for the 3rd Batallion, 4th Marines, 7th Regiment, 1st Marine Division between March and April 2003 in Iraq and treated 140 casualties on the battlefield never used nor witnessed the use of QuikClot while there. Drummond, who had 54 Navy Corpsmen under his command, says that although QuikClot was available in their medical bags, none of them used Quik- Clot, nor was it ever needed. “The extremity wounds were all controlled with direct pressure and tourniquet,” says Drummond.

The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) was asked by the Marine Corps to evaluate the continued use of QuikClot. Col. David G. Burris, M.D., interim chairman of the U.S.U. Department of Surgery, chaired the panel. The panel reinforced the FDA’s recommendation that QuikClot should be used only for life-threatening hemorrhaging after conventional hemorrhage control efforts have failed. It also reported that it should only be used to treat external wounds, and then only after standard hemostatic techniques to control bleeding have failed, according to a report released Feb. 26, 2003.

Lt. Bruce Webb, Battalion Surgeon, 2nd Tank Battalion attached to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, saw action in central Iraq from March 20 to May 30, 2003 and reported to us his first-hand battlefield experience with QuikClot.

In one instance, the product dried the wound but then flaked off so much that gauze was used more effectively. In another case, blood gushed out of a female patient’s wound so profusely that the product was always flushed out of the wound. The victim died.

In Webb’s experience, QuikClot is not very effective on the battlefield. “It doesn’t stop bleeding as advertised in the real world,” he says. “We are better off focusing on the established techniques of pressure, packing, and dressing.”

Webb also found that 25 percent of the packets he received had leaked and absorbed water so they were unusable. What he found most worrisome, however, was the potential for burns resulting from use of the product.

“Exothermic reactions can cause second-degree burns on surrounding tissue. It is impossible to dry the wound enough to prevent burning. If you can dry the wound that well, you don’t need QuikClot.”

QuikClot packaging has a net weight of 3.5 ounces, and is vacuum-packed in a sterile, compact, and waterproof 5x7-inch packet. It is heat sealed on all four sides. The top of the packet has an easy tear notch. Labeling on both front and back includes instructions, diagrams, and warnings. The retail price is $21.99 per packet.

CONTINUED: Blood Clotters «   Page 1 of 2   »

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Comments (1)

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AL Lawrence @ 4/21/2012 7:37 PM

I think Hemcon is a great product but it's very cost effective especially if it's not used in a six month period.

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