HemCon Dressing

U.S. Army  medic Hernandez (kneeling) displays HemCon dressing package from his medical kit, near Kabul, Afghanistan, 10 September 2005
U.S. Army medic Hernandez (kneeling) displays HemCon dressing package from his medical kit, near Kabul, Afghanistan, 10 September 2005.

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Military Medical Technology: HemCon Dressing

HemCon dressing package opened.  Olive drab side is the exterior, the other side is placed over the wound
HemCon dressing package opened. Olive drab side is the exterior, the other side is placed over the wound.

With funding from the U.S. Army Medical Research & Materiel Command and based on research by Dr. Kenton Gregory and Dr. Bill Wiesmann, the Oregon Medical Laser Center and Providence Health Systems, developed a bandage designed to save the lives of U.S. soldiers injured in combat. The HemCon dressing is a firm 4x4 inch dressing that is sterile and individually packaged. It works by adherence to the bleeding wound and has some vasoconstrictive properties.

The HemCon Bandage, approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2003, contains positively charged molecules of chitosan - a natural polymer derived from the exoskeletons of crab, shrimp and other crustaceans - that attract negatively charged red blood cells. While an ordinary gauze or tourniquet often has little effect in halting spurting wounds, the HemCon bandage triggers an adherent clot that halts the bleeding. HemCon does not contain human proteins or clotting factors, avoiding problems such as allergic reactions. In 2004, the Army named the HemCon Bandage as one of that year's "Top 10 Greatest Inventions."

In 2006, Israel's IDF was reported to be testing HemCon for possible adoption. HemCon Medical Technologies, Inc., was founded in 2001 in Portland, OR, to manufacture the HemCon bandage.

HemCon Dressing in Use

HemCon is durable enough to withstand blunt force as well as extreme field conditions, including inclement weather, temperature and rugged terrain. It comes in a variety of sizes and configurations. Packaged with a two-year shelf life, the bandages are stable at room temperature, simple to use and conform to curved or irregular wound surfaces. They are also easily removed with saline solution or water.

Feedback from the Army, including Special Forces, report that the bandage has performed very well and is responsible for saving lives, controlling even arterial hemorrhage. HemCon bandages are applied directly to the bleeding site and held in place for two minutes.

Battlefield users in the Army and Marine Corps report that "HemCon was really amazing, but then again it didn't take every time, and you still need time to apply it properly." Time is required for a proper seal and the medic has to make sure it is not leaking. Best practice seems to be to remove blood and clot in the wound before application, to apply a torniquette immediately, then apply the HemCon dressing as the torniquette is eased off. There is a risk of inadequate contact of HemCon to the bleeding tissues in deep wounds. Another product in military use for control of bleeding, QuickClot, was judged not as easy to use as HemCon.

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