Complete Guide to Treating Knife and Gunshot Wounds

Table of Contents
by Pam Graham, AHA Accredited Instructor
Complete Guide to Treating Knife and Gunshot Wounds

Treating a gun shot and stabbing wound

Have you ever found yourself in an emergency situation? Have you ever witnessed a knife or gunshot injury firsthand and didn’t know what to do?

Gunshot and stab wounds are one of the most devastating injuries a person can endure. The damage caused by a gunshot or knife wound requires years of healing, and in some cases, it is even irreparable.

Factors such as the type of bullet, its trajectory, speed, and its location affect the severity of the wound. A bullet can often rip through your organs, break bones and also puncture lungs, causing severe blood loss. Similarly, stabbing entails the penetration of a sharp object through your body, damaging your internal organs, often causing uncontrollable blood loss. Both gunshot and knife wounds have such severe repercussions; hence, it’s vital to contain the blood loss and get a grip on the injury till the paramedics arrive.

We understand that being in a situation like this can be difficult. However, the first step is to remain calm and composed and call the emergency helpline to send paramedics your way. Until the paramedics or any professional help arrives, the situation is in your hand. You can start by treating knife and gunshot wounds by following a few necessary steps.

How to Treat a Gunshot or Knife Wound

If you find yourself in a situation where you have to treat a gunshot or knife wound before the paramedics arrive, take a deep breath and take charge. Make sure that you act fast and provide the patient with the care and support they need.

Here are a few steps that you should follow to ensure that the patient remains stable and survives this horrible situation.

Stop the Bleeding Instantly

A victim suffering from a gunshot or knife wound can bleed to death. Whether it’s an entrance or exit wound, a gunshot penetrates through the body, damaging one or multiple organs, like a knife wound. In either case, the first step for you to take is to stop the bleeding.

  • You can determine the location of the wound by checking the source of the bleeding. Once you spot the injury, apply pressure instantly. You can do this using your hands, a cloth, or even your knee. If the wound is still bleeding steadily, you should lean on it hard to make it stop.

  • You can also use a dressing such as gauze or towels if they are available. If they aren’t available, you should use a shirt or clothing item to contain the bleeding by wrapping the wound and applying pressure. Dressing it will help the blood clot and seal the wound instantly until professional help arrives.

  • Lastly, you can also use a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. You require a significant amount of practice to use a professional tourniquet, but you can make do with a belt, stick, or rope. If you use a tourniquet and the bleeding still doesn’t halt, apply pressure. Moreover, if the patient seems to be in extreme discomfort and pain with the tourniquet on, it means it has been set correctly.

Monitor the Patient’s Breathing

The breathing of the victim should be monitored throughout until the paramedics arrive on the scene. When a person is bleeding out, their lungs tend to collapse, which is why it’s necessary to keep monitoring their breathing pattern.

Check the Victim’s Blood Circulation

Keep a check on the victim’s blood circulation before and after you apply pressure to the wound. You can check their pulse by placing your index and middle finger on their throat or wrist.

Perform CPR

CPR is a life-saving technique that everyone should know as an emergency situation can arise at any time.

  • If, at any point in time, you feel as if the patient is losing consciousness, begin CPR instantly.
  • If the victim has suffered one or multiple gunshot or knife wounds to the chest, seal the wound using plastic to keep the air from being sucked into the wound. This will prevent the patient’s lungs from collapsing.
  • If the patient complains about shortness of breath after you seal the wound, remove the seal.
  • You should also start CPR if you feel like the victim does not have a discernible pulse. Also, check if the patient is still bleeding from somewhere.

Treat the Victim for Shock

Gunshot and knife wounds can often land the victim in a condition of shock. This typically occurs due to the traumatizing nature of the situation and, obviously, the severe blood loss. In a traumatic case like this, you should always be prepared to treat the patient for shock.

  • You can do this by ensuring that the patient’s body temperature remains consistent. Their body might start getting cold due to severe blood loss, so it would be best if you covered them by draping a coat or blanket over them to keep them warm. If the person is wearing tight clothing, ensure you loosen it.

  • Secondly, even though it is recommended to elevate the legs of someone in a state of shock, you should refrain from doing this if the victim has suffered a wound above the belt, such as in their torso area.

Give Reassurance to the Victim

Even though this might not help a victim physically, it can help pull them out of shock. It would help if you reassured the victim that they are alright and that you are helping them. Talking to the victim also keeps them conscious, which is vital in this situation.

If the patient remains conscious, ask them about any medications they’re taking, any medical conditions they have, such as diabetes or hypertension, and any drug allergies they might have. This will not only help distract the patient from their current situation but also give you essential information that you can deliver to the paramedics in case the victim loses consciousness at their arrival.

Important Points to Remember

If you ever find yourself involved in an emergency situation like this, there are a few points you need to remember because, well, it’s a life-and-death situation.

Do Not Give the Victim Anything to Eat or Drink

If the patient is conscious, never give them anything to eat or drink, including water. Since you aren’t aware of the severity of the wound, you won’t know which internal organs have suffered damage, and giving them something to eat or drink could make the situation much worse.

Do Not Elevate the Victim’s Legs

You will first have to determine where the gunshot or knife wound is. Never elevate the victim’s legs unless the injury is on the arm. A gunshot wound to the abdomen or chest tends to bleed out more quickly if the legs are kept in an elevated position. It can become challenging for the patient to breathe, causing more issues. So, you’ll have to ensure the patient is kept in a straight position until the paramedics arrive.

Changing the Patient’s Position

If the patient remains conscious even after being stabbed or shot, accommodate them in the best way possible. You can keep them upright (sitting) or let them lie down straight, depending on what’s more comfortable for them. However, if the patient is unconscious, ensure they are placed in recovery.

Don’t Stop Applying Pressure

Victims who suffer from knife or gunshot wounds usually lose their lives due to extreme blood loss. The key to controlling the incessant flow of blood is to apply pressure. Make sure you use pressure until the wound appears completely contained or till the paramedics arrive at the scene. If you stop, the bleeding could start again.

Myths About Gunshot Wounds

Another critical thing to remember is that all entrance and exit gunshot wounds are the same. A myth states that one wound type is far more detrimental than another. However, there’s no reliable way to tell that, and neither does it matter since all puncture wounds are typically treated similarly.


Treating knife and gunshot wounds is not an easy task. Dealing with such a severe situation can cause panic. However, by following the few steps above, you can stay in control of the problem and possibly save someone’s life!

If you’re interested in more specific training in how to treat knife and gunshot wounds, Stop The Bleeding has a program specifically designed to stop bleeding in a severely injured person. ABC Health and Safety Training is not in any way associated with Stop The Bleeding, but we highly recommend their program.