What is shock?

Shock is a condition that affects the body’s major organs and occurs when the body does not receive an adequate flow of blood. There are multiple causes for shock, including heart disorders, severe dehydration, trauma, surgical blood loss, and infection. Shock is commonly caused by serious trauma that includes significant internal or external bleeding.

Typical of serious traumas resulting in shock are motor vehicle accidents, gunshot wounds, falls, and other traumatic injuries. In addition to trauma, septic shock is a risk for those with sepsis, a life-threatening bacterial blood infection common in severely ill individuals or those with weakened immune systems. Individuals with serious heart conditions are at risk for a type of shock referred to as cardiogenic shock. Injuries to the upper spinal cord may interfere with the function of nerves that maintain blood pressure and result in a type of shock known as neurogenic shock.

Shock develops as the result of diminished blood flow to the body’s vital organs. The most common type of shock is known as hypovolemic (low-volume) shock, a direct result of diminished blood flow. Traumatic injury can cause serious bleeding, resulting in a decrease in the amount of blood in the body and an increase in the risk of shock. Uncorrected blood loss, which occurs during surgery, can also lead to shock. The body responds to low blood volume by increasing the heart rate to deliver oxygen to the tissues. Without medical intervention, shock can ensue as the body protects the vital organs, such as the, brain, heart, and kidneys, by reducing blood flow to the periphery (areas such as the arms and legs).

Symptoms of shock are varied but all are related to the circulatory system being compromised by inadequate blood volume. The most common symptoms include skin pallor, weak and rapid heart rate, and profuse sweating. If left untreated, symptoms can worsen quickly and may include blue lips (cyanosis), shortness of breath and loss of consciousness. Shock can be treated with emergency medical measures to stabilize the patient including intravenous fluid replacement, blood transfusions if necessary, and medications to support the blood pressure and heart rate. Any underlying causes, such as bleeding, infection, or heart conditions must also be treated.

Shock is always a medical emergency. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as profuse sweating and severe difficulty breathing, which may be accompanied by pale skin or pallor, bluish coloration of the lips, fingernails or skin, rapid heart rate (tachycardia), loss of consciousness, altered mental status, uncontrollable bleeding, severe chest pain, severe abdominal pain, or high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit).


What are the symptoms of shock?

There are many symptoms of shock, and they may appear in any combination.

Common symptoms of shock

You may experience any or all of these common symptoms of shock, any of which can at times be severe:

  • Bluish coloration of the lips or fingernails
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Confusion or loss of consciousness for even a brief moment
  • ... Read more about shocksymptoms


What causes shock?

Shock develops as a result of diminished flow of blood to the body’s vital organs. The most common type of shock is referred to as hypovolemic, or low-volume, shock, a direct result of diminished blood flow. Traumatic injury can often result in shock when internal or external bleeding decreases the amount of blood in the body. The body responds to low blood volume by increasing the heart rate t... Read more about shockcauses


How is shock treated?

Shock is a potentially life-threatening condition that should be evaluated in an emergency department. If you believe that you, or someone you are with, may be in or approaching shock, it is critical to seek immediate medical care by calling 911.

The immediate aim of treatment for shock is to ensure that the airway is unobstructed in order to facilitate breathing and circulation.... Read more about shocktreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 30, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Heart, Blood and Circulation