Beware of Fake Tourniquets
Uncontrolled bleeding is one of the most common causes of preventable deaths. From household accidents to gunshot wounds, we are surrounded by things that could cause that bleeding. While we often think in terms of “911 is only 5-10 minutes away”, consider that a person can bleed to death in as little as 2.5 minutes if it is from an artery. Fortunately, a properly applied tourniquet can stop that bleeding and increase the odds of survival.
A tourniquet (TQ) is a medical device used to control life-threatening bleeding by compressing the blood vessels in an injured limb. While tourniquets can save lives in emergencies, using one that is not on the Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) list of recommended tourniquets can be problematic. In this article, we will explore some of the potential hazards of using an unapproved tourniquet.
What is the TCCC?
TCCC are the United States military guidelines for trauma life support in prehospital combat medicine. These guidelines come from the Committee on Tactical Combat Casualty Care (CoTCCC), which is part of the Defense Committees on Trauma (DCoT) division of the Defense Health Agency (DHA). Sounds very official and a little confusing, right?
The short version is the TCCC use the real-world experiences of our military to establish best practices for things like bleeding control and passes them on to the rest of the world. They technically have no authority to approve or prohibit a tourniquet, but their recommendations are derived from lessons learned in conditions most can’t imagine.
Ineffective Bleeding Control
Firstly, using an unapproved tourniquet can lead to ineffective bleeding control. Tourniquets that are not on the TCCC list may not have been tested for their effectiveness in stopping bleeding. The TCCC guidelines are based on extensive research and testing, and only tourniquets that have been proven to be effective in stopping bleeding are included on the list. If an unapproved tourniquet is used, there is a risk that it may not be tight enough to stop the bleeding, or it may not be effective at all, putting the patient’s life in danger.
Nerve or Tissue Damage
Secondly, an unapproved TQ may cause nerve damage or tissue damage. Tourniquets work by compressing the blood vessels in the limb to stop the bleeding. However, if the tourniquet is not applied correctly, it can cause damage to the surrounding nerves and tissue. In some cases, this can result in permanent nerve damage or tissue death, leading to amputation or long-term disability. Tourniquets that are not on the TCCC list may not have been designed to prevent nerve and tissue damage, which increases the risk of complications.
Tourniquets on the list are made by reputable manufacturers and use materials that are proven in real-world conditions. Sources like Amazon are filled with knock-off tourniquets that are made of substandard materials. Windlass rods that break, material that tears under tension and low-quality Velcro that fails to hold are just a few of the more common issues. A TQ from the recommended list will usually cost you between $25-40. If you are paying less, you’re probably buying a Chinese knockoff. If you’re paying more than that, you probably need to shop around.
Can I be blunt? I hope you said yes because I’m going to be anyway. We are talking about a piece of life-saving equipment here. This is not the time to cheap out. Can you imagine trying to save a person’s (read that family member’s) life and having the “Chinesium” windlass rod break and they bleed out? I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready for that kind of guilt to save $10.
What Tourniquets are Recommended?
Currently, there are 8 tourniquets on the recommended list:
- Combat Application Tourniquet (CAT) Gen 7
- Combat Application Tourniquet (CAT) Gen 6
- Ratcheting Medical Tourniquet -Tactical (RMT-T)
- SAM Extremity Tourniquet (SAM-XT)
- SOF Tactical Tourniquet – Wide (SOFTT-W)
- Tactical Mechanical Tourniquet (TMT)
- TX2” Tourniquet (TX2)
- TX3” Tourniquet (TX3)
Personally, my favorite tourniquet when space is not a consideration is the SAM-XT. When space is an issue, such as in my ankle medical kit, the SOFTT-W is my go-to choice. We’ll talk about why in future articles.
Where can I Buy Them?
There are a lot of reputable dealers. Here are a few that we have personally ordered from or trust:
Using a reputable dealer is the easiest way to make sure you get the real deal. I’ve seen tourniquets that looked like CAT tourniquets to the untrained eye being sold for under $5. If you’re going to buy a knock-off of something, choose a watch or belt, not something that has the sole purpose of saving lives.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to get quality Stop the Bleed training. Better Protectors is a Committee for Tactical Emergency Casualty Care (C-TECC) Educational Partner. In 2 short hours, we can teach you how to save someone from bleeding to death, whether that is a family member, a stranger or yourself. This is an easy class to bring to your workplace, church, HOA group or any place else. Just contact us.
A parting thought: Even if you aren’t Stop the Bleed trained yet, get a tourniquet and carry it. You may find a situation where a trained person doesn’t have one or needs another one.