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Conditions In Brief

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Definition | Causes | Risk Factors | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment | Prevention

Definition

Shock occurs when inadequate blood flow threatens the function of multiple organs. Shock is a potentially life-threatening condition. The sooner it is treated, the better the outcome. If you suspect someone is in shock, dial 911 immediately.

Causes

Some causes of shock include:

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Heart attack
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Sepsis (infection of the blood)
  • Other severe infection
  • Allergic reaction
  • Poisoning
  • Loss of blood volume (hypovolemia)—this can be from severe bleeding or severe dehydration
  • Heatstroke
  • Trauma

Risk Factors

The following factors increase your chances of developing shock:

  • Pre-existing heart disease
  • Impaired immunity
  • Severe allergies

Symptoms

If you experience any of these, do not assume it is because of shock. These symptoms may be caused by other, less serious health conditions. If you experience any one of them, see your doctor. The symptoms of shock depend on the cause.

Symptoms may include:

  • Weakness
  • Altered mental status
  • Cool and clammy skin
  • Low blood pressure
  • Decreased urination
  • Weak and rapid pulse
  • Slow and shallow or rapid and deep breathing
  • Lackluster (dull) eyes
  • Dilated pupils

Symptom of Shock

Dilated and Constricted pupil
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Diagnosis

When you arrive at the hospital, your doctor will perform a physical exam.

Tests may include the following:

  • Breathing assessment
  • Blood pressure measurement
  • Heart rate monitoring
  • Other tests, depending on the cause of shock

Treatment

Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Treatment options include the following:

If you are having trouble breathing, your doctor will clear your airway. Oxygen and breathing assistance may be provided if you need it.

You may receive an IV and/or blood transfusions. These will stabilize your blood pressure and heart rate.

Insertion of IV for Transfusion or Medications

IV_insertion
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

You may be given vasopressor medications. These constrict your blood vessels to increase blood pressure. Drugs may also be used to increase your heart contractions.

Prevention

To help reduce your chances of getting shock, take the following steps:

  • Prevent or control heart disease.
  • Avoid activities that put you at risk of falls or other injuries.
  • Carry an epinephrine pen with you if you have a severe allergy.
RESOURCES:

American College of Emergency Physicians

http://www.acep.org

National Institutes of Health

http://www.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians

http://caep.ca

Canadian Red Cross

http://www.redcross.ca

References:

Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Textbook of Internal Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders; 2008.

Kumar A, Patel S. Focus on: shock and pressors. American College of Emergency Physicians website. Available at: http://www.acep.org/webportal/membercenter/periodicals/an/2006/oct/shockpressors.htm. Accessed October 26, 2006.

Marx JA, et al. Rosen's Emergency Medicine.7th ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby; 2009.

Shock: first aid. Mayo Clinic website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/first-aid-shock/FA00056. Accessed October 26, 2006.

The signs of hypovolemic shock. Health Guidance website. Available at: http://www.healthguidance.org/entry/12784/1/The-Signs-of-Hypovolemic-Shock.html. Accessed April 11, 2011.

Last reviewed October 2012 by Peter Lucas, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.