What is a Hemostat?

Emma Lloyd

A hemostat, also known as an arterial forceps or a hemostatic clamp, is one of the most common tools which surgeons use during the course of an operation. Hemostats are used to prevent and control bleeding of veins and arteries. These tools are so vital that they are used in almost every type of surgical procedure, and are also used by paramedics.

Hemostats are used to prevent or control the flow of blood during childbirth and surgical procedures.
Hemostats are used to prevent or control the flow of blood during childbirth and surgical procedures.

Many surgical techniques and tools were developed hundreds of years before the advent of modern medicine. The use of the surgical hemostat dates back as far as the first century BC, to a Roman physician named Aelius Galenus. While Galenus did not himself use hemostat forceps as they are used today, it was he who pioneered the concept of using an instrument to clamp shut a bleeding artery or vessel, so that it could be more easily tied off.

Hemostats are used to control bleeding of veins and arteries.
Hemostats are used to control bleeding of veins and arteries.

Despite this early discovery, the tool was not in common use until the fifteenth century BC. At this time, Ambroise Pare, a French surgeon and barber, developed a tool he named a Bec de Corbin, or crow’s beak. This was a much cruder version of the tool which is used today, but was an important step in the development of modern hemostats.

Hemostats are used in almost every type of surgical procedure.
Hemostats are used in almost every type of surgical procedure.

Similar in structure to a pair of scissors, the modern hemostat has a pair of jaws which are used to compress tissue, rather than cutting it as scissors do. The flat surface of the jaws is ridged to improve the grip of the tool, and to provide a more efficient surface for compressing the tissue.

The hemostat has a hinged joint and a pair of sturdy handles, similar to those of scissors. The other main way in which medical hemostats differ from scissors is the addition of a ratchet. The ratchet is a toothed bar which is affixed to the inside of each handle, and allows the surgeon to precisely open and close the jaws of the tool. In addition the ratchet allows the surgeon to hold the jaws in position without having to maintain pressure on the tool.

Hemostats come in a range of sizes and in slightly different shapes, to accommodate the requirements of individuals with different hand shapes and sizes. In addition, various types of hemostats may be used in preference depending on the requirements of the operation. For example, some hemostats have straight jaws, while others have curved jaws, and sizes range between five inches (12.5 cm) to ten inches (25 cm) in length.

Hemostatic forceps are used to control bleeding.
Hemostatic forceps are used to control bleeding.

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Discussion Comments


@TreeMan - I'm not a doctor or nurse or anything, but my guess is that they use hemostats to clamp shut the main arteries like the aorta. I know that sometimes they will use some type of cauterizing tool to burn blood vessels shut and stop them from bleeding. I don't know if this is just for the tiniest ones or if it can be done for larger ones, too. Maybe someone else can help out with that one.

If you wanted to buy a pair of hemostats, where would you find them? I'm sure there are probably online medical stores, but I'm wondering if they are sold in regular stores. How much do they usually cost?


My sister just had her first kid a couple weeks ago, and we were watching the video of it. I had never thought of the need for it, but before they cut the umbilical cord, they have to have some way to cut off the flow. It just so happens that they used a pair of hemostats before they cut the cord.

I was curious, how small can hemostats get? I would imagine if a doctor were doing something like a bypass surgery, there would be quite a few arteries that needed to be clamped shut. I don't know what the size of our arteries is, but I would guess they aren't huge.

When they do a procedure like heart surgery, are there usually just a bunch of hemostats all champed onto arteries in someone's chest, or is there a tidier system?


@cardsfan27 - It can't hurt to hold on to them if you've got the space in your drawer. You never know when you'll need something odd like that.

I do a lot of fishing, and having a pair of hemostats is a must. Depending on the size of fish you are catching and the hooks you are using, pulling hooks out of fish mouths can get painful for your fingers after a while. They're great for smaller hooks, too, if you have larger hands. Because of the ratchet feature, you can lock onto the hook and maneuver it out of the mouth pretty easily.

My grandma always used to use a tiny pair of hemostats when she was sewing. She always had trouble grabbing the thread once it was through the eye of the needle, so she used the hemostats to hold onto it and pull it through.

I'd be interested to hear other people's uses for hemostats that I probably haven't even thought of.


Wow, so that's what those things are! I have had a pair of these sitting in my junk drawer for years and years and never knew what they were. I ended up with them when I got my first house, and my parents gave me a big box of household items that they had cleaned out and were going to get rid of. I kept them just because they looked like they might be useful for something, but didn't know this was their intended purpose.

I don't think I ever have found a good use for them around the house. Does anyone know of any ordinary household uses for a hemostat, or should I just part with the thing?

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