Tourniquet: Bad Advice for a Snake Bite

The Associated Press
Wednesday, October 4, 2006; 8:50 PM

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- A Rockvale man discovered that Western films aren't a good source of emergency medical advice for a snakebite. Mike Edwards, 46, was bitten by a timber rattlesnake Saturday while working on his Rockvale farm. The bite was so severe that Edwards was kept at Vanderbilt University Medical Center until Monday.

The standard snakebite scene in many movies shows the victim applying a tourniquet to the limb and then cutting the wound and sucking out the venom.

As Edwards and his wife, Andrea, waited for the ambulance to arrive, a good Samaritan tried to help using advice gleaned from Hollywood.

"She put a tourniquet on his arm," Andrea Edwards said. "We were on the phone with the EMT who was on his way to us, and he said to take it off."

As the Edwards learned when they arrived at Vanderbilt, the tourniquet could have cost him his hand or arm.

"The toxicologist at Vanderbilt said the tourniquet just kept all of the venom in one place, and it swelled, which made it harder for the antivenin to get to it," Mike Edwards said.

Edwards' condition was critical by the time they arrived at the hospital and his blood pressure was dangerously low, his wife said. Mike said he lost vision at one point and was convulsively twitching.

"They told me another 10 minutes, and we could have lost him," she said.

Middle Tennessee Medical Center's Dr. Kevin Beier, who specializes in emergency treatment, said venom is used by snakes to break down the tissue of prey to make them easier to digest.

"When you trap the venom, it causes tissue damage and necrosis (tissue death)," Beier said.

Beier said there are rare circumstances when using a tourniquet would have helped, such as in the cases of the victim going into shock and to slow the spread of the venom.

But Beier said the method of cutting a wound and sucking out the venom is never recommended.

"Do not do this," he said. "That's been shown not to have been of any benefit and it can increase the effect of infection or damage."


Information from: The Daily News Journal,

© 2006 The Associated Press