Hemorrhaging is broken down into four classes by the American College of Surgeons' advanced trauma life support (ATLS).

  • Class I Hemorrhage involves up to 15% of blood volume. There is typically no change in vital signs and fluid resuscitation is not usually necessary.
  • Class II Hemorrhage involves 15-30% of total blood volume. A patient is often tachycardic (rapid heart beat) with a reduction in the difference between the systolic and diastolic blood pressures. The body attempts to compensate with peripheral vasoconstriction. Skin may start to look pale and be cool to the touch. The patient may exhibit slight changes in behavior. Volume resuscitation with crystalloids (Saline solution or Lactated Ringer's solution) is all that is typically required. Blood transfusion is not usually required.
  • Class III Hemorrhage involves loss of 30-40% of circulating blood volume. The patient's blood pressure drops, the heart rate increases, peripheral hypoperfusion (shock) with diminished capillary refill occurs, and the mental status worsens. Fluid resuscitation with crystalloid and blood transfusion are usually necessary.
  • Class IV Hemorrhage involves loss of >40% of circulating blood volume. The limit of the body's compensation is reached and aggressive resuscitation is required to prevent death.

This system is basically the same as used in the staging of hypovolemic shock.

Individuals in excellent physical and cardiovascular shape may have more effective compensatory mechanisms before experiencing cardiovascular collapse. These patients may look deceptively stable, with minimal derangements in vital signs, while having poor peripheral perfusion. Elderly patients or those with chronic medical conditions may have less tolerance to blood loss, less ability to compensate, and may take medications such as betablockers that can potentially blunt the cardiovascular response. Care must be taken in the assessment.

Massive hemorrhage

Although there is no universally accepted definition of massive hemorrhage, the following can be used to identify the condition: "(i) blood loss exceeding circulating blood volume within a 24-hour period, (ii) blood loss of 50% of circulating blood volume within a 3-hour period, (iii) blood loss exceeding 150 ml/min, or (iv) blood loss that necessitates plasma and platelet transfusion."

With Regards,
John Robert                              
Managing Editor
Journal of Kidney Treatment and Diagnosis