In case of serious injury during a trek, can sanitary pads be used along with other first-aid dressing material to stop/reduce bleeding from a wound?

Rationale: When compared with Gauze, sanitary pads are designed better/with more thought?

Edit: Whether those are part of first-aid (or hygiene) kit during a trek or not is a debatable topic. But lets assume that someone has one within the group.

  • I have the wrong reproduction organ to speculate too much, but aren't sanitary pads just supposed to absorb blood (et al.) ? A first aid dressing is supposed to apply the right pressure to stop a bleeding and facilitate wound closure (in a sterile and painless way). I can imagine if there is a head wound and blood running into your eyes is a problem then an absorbent is certainly helpful, but otherwise the problem is the blood escaping your body. Containing it after it has left the body is, generally not, the biggest problem. Sep 28 '21 at 14:01
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    @StianYttervik most dressings don't directly apply much pressure because that's hard to get right. Pressure to stop the bleeding is best done by hand (hopefully the casualty is able to do that). A clean absorbent pad that's designed to some extent to keep blood from escaping to the outside world isn't a bad start for an improvised solution, better than clothing.
    – Chris H
    Sep 28 '21 at 14:54
  • ...The last time I had to apply a dressing was to a rather unpleasant head wound from a car crash. The bleeding had been stopped by pressing a sweater against it on the advice of the emergency call handler, for 10-20 minutes before we got there. Still no ambulance when the police took over the scene from the passers by half an hour after we rode up. Several vehicles without any first aid kits, me on a bike with a decent one! And I did a rubbish job of putting the dressing on.
    – Chris H
    Sep 28 '21 at 14:56
  • @ChrisH: That sounds rather painful! 😢
    – WedaPashi
    Sep 28 '21 at 16:13
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    @WedaPashi not for me, but I didn't envy the injury person. Coincidentally it was just down the road from where I'd done my most recent first aid course, which might have helped the training to kick in. One of the other riders grasped the situation quicker than I did and dealt with the overall situation admirably, so I only had to attend to a wounded person then deal with a bit of traffic. We train for our own activities (and I've put a few dressings on myself) but you never know what you'll come across.
    – Chris H
    Sep 28 '21 at 21:02

They'd be a decent substitute (and indeed may be carried when first aid supplies aren't, or available to buy in smaller shops), but proper dressings (not merely gauze) would be better for several reasons:

  • Dressings (at least proper non-adherent ones) are designed not to adhere to wounds, or at least not too badly.
  • Dressings are supplied sterile. Medical gauze, which can have a role in dressing wounds is sometimes sterile until opened. In general, merely clean dressings are usually enough, which would make sanitary products better than clothing.
  • Dressings may be designed with a built in bandage (I like this type, even for grazes near joints, and they stay put even if you're moving around). This bandage can also be used to maintain light pressure on a wound.

The actual absorbency is probably pretty similar for the same size/weight, but proper dressings are more likely to leak straight though than round the edges, which makes putting an additional pad on top easier (and that's what you should do in nearly all cases, the exception being if you're days away from hospital and need to change dressings).

Plain gauze is more useful for cleaning around a wound (perhaps so adhesive dressings/tape can stick better) and for extra absorbing on top of a dressing. It's likely to leave lint in the wound if applied directly, and often isn't supplied sterile. It also sticks rather badly to wounds.

  • 2
    One comment on the adherence bullet, most medical gauze/dressings will still stick/adhere to some types of wounds, especially burns. There exists special non-adherent dressings (main brand name being Telfa) which should be in most outdoors focused med kits. Using plain gauze or plain dressings or a sanitary pad on a burn is going to make a big mess and should really be avoided. If you don't have Telfa, or equivalent, in your medkit, I'd highly recommend adding it.
    – noah
    Sep 27 '21 at 16:26
  • @noah googling, I see common equivalents here in the UK are sold as melolin (which I grew up having on grazes) or skintact (which I have in my kits at the moment). Both are brand names for ranges that may include other dressings They're so commonplace here that they're what I referred to by "proper dressings". It's a year since I used my dressings with a built in bandage, and the label is unhelpful, so I can't be 100% sure but I think they have a similar surface.
    – Chris H
    Sep 27 '21 at 20:41
  • Interesting. In the USA most outdoors oriented med kits I see at REI/equivalent won't have many (or any) non-stick dressings. You see more of the standard band-aid style pad and plain old gauze. It may also be a USA/UK word difference that I am misunderstanding what you mean by dressings
    – noah
    Sep 27 '21 at 22:40
  • @noah there may be a transatlantic difference in emphasis, but it's equally likely that I'm being semantically difficult. I'm thinking of multilayer products, with the wound-facing surface being non-adherent, and with or without a bandage attached. That type are a required component of first aid at work kits, and what I choose to carry. Gauze etc. can be used in dressing a wound. As for pre-made kits, I haven't bought one in over 10 years. They're rarely very good, often containing deprecated or poor quality products, and lacking others. I buy the supplies I need to make up my kits
    – Chris H
    Sep 28 '21 at 8:19
  • ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2539027 Study says non-sterile clean sanitary pads are basically just as good as sterile wound dressing. (Plus, realistically, in a trekking situation your wound is already irrecoverably contaminated from the surrounding skin plus whatever you injured yourself on--to the point where sterile vs clean-non-sterile dressing is just a rounding error.) Sep 28 '21 at 18:04

There are two key issues that limit the utility of pads, tampons, or similar feminine hygiene products for dressing a wound:

  • They are generally not designed to stop bleeding, only absorb fluids.
  • They are generally not sterile, at least not to the same degree of sterility of proper medical gauze pads or dressings.

These together make them inherently inferior to medical gauze or dressings, though they may be an acceptable option in an absolute emergency, because they do still absorb some fluids and at least the pads will keep other debris out of the wound.

It’s a bit more complicated than that though:

  • Some pads may be constructed in a way that they tend to adhere to the site of the wound. This complicates re-dressing the wound when the victim does get to proper medical care, and may cause serious complications with certain types of wounds (most notably burns, which ideally should not be dressed with regular medical gauze for the same reasons).
  • Some pads may contain chemicals designed to aid in absorbency (for example, sodium polyacrylate). It is generally less than ideal to expose an open wound to these chemicals. They are generally safe, but anything that potentially contaminates the wound is a potential source of complications.
  • Most pads are designed in a way that tends to result in them leaking around the edges instead of straight through. This complicates adding extra material on top of the dressing (you should almost never re-dress a wound in the field, instead just keep packing more gauze on top until you stop getting fluid leaking through).
  • In the (hopefully unlikely) event of needing to pack material into a wound, pads are generally poorly shaped for this purpose, and tampons are almost invariably going to be the wrong size, but good medical gauze is generally designed such that it’s easy to use for this purpose.

There is one case where they may be treated as almost equivalent to gauze: blotting small amounts of blood from small nicks and scrapes, though even then there may be better options (you’ll almost always get better results with a styptic pencil to stop the bleeding from such injuries than just blotting at it with something absorbent).


No, they will not be effective for stopping bleeding.

Here is a related video that covers an adjacent topic:

Tampons for Gun Shot Wounds - On Her Own

They're looking at tampons rather than pads, and specifically in the context of a gunshot wound, but the principles are the same. Feminine hygiene products (tampons, pads, cups, etc.) are not designed to stop bleeding. They're designed to relatively comfortably absorb a fairly small amount of blood. They're not hoping to stop any bleeding (in this context, "better out than in"), just to prevent that blood and uterine lining from embarrassing the user.

Medical gauze is designed to be more absorbent than pads. It's also designed to be inserted into the wound to aid in clotting at the site of bleeding.

For stopping bleeding, a sanitary pad may be better than nothing, but it is not better than gauze.

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