What is Shock?

Shock is the a severe dysfunction or failure in the circulation, meaning that adequate blood is not flowing or sufficient oxygen is not reaching the cells, tissues or organs. Shock is considered to be a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention, failing which, death may occur. The medical term ‘shock’ should not be confused with a sudden and severe emotional upset which is commonly referred to as ‘shock’ as well.

Types of Shock

There are many types of shock and this is not only a result of excessive blood loss which is a common misconception.

  1. Hypovolemic shock is the result of blood loss or significant water and salt loss (fluid and electrolyte loss).
  2. Cardiogenic shock is the result of failure of the cardiovascular organs, particularly the heart.
  3. Anaphylactic shock is the result of a generalized allergic reaction.
  4. Septic shock is a result of infections which has progressed to a severe state as in septicemia.
  5. Neurogenic shock is a result of severe nerve damage that affects the heart and blood vessels.

Causes of Shock

Based on the different types of shock, the causes can vary significantly. Some of the common causes of shock includes :

  • Sudden and severe blood loss seen with a major open wound
  • Disruption of heart activity like a heart attack
  • Anaphylaxis occurs when eating certain foods that one is extremely allergic to such as strawberries, eggs, nuts, shellfish and so on. It depends on the individual.
  • Untreated infections, specifically bacterial infections, can lead to septic shock should the body’s immune system not overcome the microbes.

Signs and Symptoms of Shock

Shock occurs when the blood pressure drops significantly or when an adequate blood supply is not reaching tissues. The cardinal signs and symptoms of shock include :

  • Pale skin complexion (pallor).
  • Clammy skin (cold sweat).
  • Rapid thready pulse (increased heart rate).
  • Rapid breathing (increased respiration rate usually with shallow breathing).
  • Low blood pressure.

Other signs and symptoms that may not always be obvious signs of shock include :

  • Dizziness
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness
  • Confusion, anxiety or irritability
  • Cyanosis, first noticed as bluish fingers, toes and lips and later as bluish appearance of face.
  • Little or no urine
  • Chest pain

Treatment of Shock

  • Elevate the legs but be cautious about spinal cord damage, especially in cases of car accident injuries.
  • Attempt to raise the body temperature by covering the person or moving them closer to a source of heat, if available.
  • In the event of a site of obvious blood loss, apply firm pressure to stop or slow the loss.
  • Airway, Breathing, Circulation. If any of the three are compromised, consider starting CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation).
  • Seek emergency medical help.

References :

  1. Shock. Medline Plus
  2. Hypovolemic Shock. Drexel University, College of Medicine.

Article reviewed by Dr. Greg. Last updated on September 10, 2012