Video 38 of 41
4 min 25 sec
English, Español
English, Español

Shock is a progressive condition in which the circulatory system fails to adequately circulate oxygenated blood to all parts of the body.

When organs don't receive enough blood, the body begins to conserve blood flow by limiting it to legs, arms, and the skin. This insufficient blood volume is one thing that can lead to shock, as can low levels of plasma and fluids in the blood and airway obstruction.

The Four Main Types of Shock

Hypovolemic Shock

Hypovolemic shock is caused by a severe lack of blood and bodily fluids. The most common type of hypovolemic shock is hemorrhagic shock, which occurs as a result of significant blood loss.

Obstructive Shock

Obstructive shock is caused by an obstruction to blood flow usually within the blood vessels, like a pulmonary embolism – a blood clot in a lung artery.

Distributive Shock

When there is an inadequate distribution of blood that results in low levels of blood returning to the heart, this can cause distributive shock. Examples include septic shock (due to toxins), anaphylactic shock (due to food allergies), and neurogenic shock (due to spinal cord or brain trauma).

Cardiogenic Shock

Cardiogenic shock is the result of the heart being unable to supply enough blood to vital organs. This can be caused by an injury to the heart, disease, or trauma.

How to Provide Care

Shock is a devastating condition that is difficult to diagnose, and which can quickly lead to death if not properly managed. And as it's a multi-symptom and complex condition, which is also progressive, this makes diagnosis even more difficult.

Pro Tip 1: The goal of care when the victim is in shock is to find and fix the problem that's sending them into shock. In the case of bleeding injuries, controlling blood loss should help allow enough oxygenated blood flow to circulate, thereby keeping cells and vital organs working properly.

The first step is to recognize the signs and symptoms of shock and realize that these can all progress and therefore should be monitored periodically.

Look for these early signs of shock:

  • Nervousness
  • Rapid heart rate or breathing
  • Anxiousness
  • Sweaty
  • Fearful
  • Clammy skin

As shock progresses, the victim's skin could become paler, clammier, and the other symptoms could also get worse. Clammy skin, incidentally, is due to a restriction in blood flow to the skin and extremities.

Pro Tip 2: If you suspect shock, pinch a toenail or fingernail and measure the capillary response – the length of time it takes for blood to refill that nail. If it's more than a few seconds, your victim is likely in shock.

How to Deal with a Shock Victim

Your quick and competent response may be the difference between life and death. If you suspect the victim is in shock, proceed with the following steps.

  • Maintain the victim's airway and help them breathe if they're not able to on their own.
  • Help improve their circulation by controlling any bleeding. If they don't have any breathing issues or lower body injuries, lay them down and elevate their legs.
  • Cover the victim with a blanket or coat. Insulate them as best you can and keep them warm. This will help their bodies combat the shock.

Shock is a progressive condition that if left untreated can prove fatal. Following the above steps will certainly help, but you should still call 911 and get EMS involved as quickly as possible at the first sign of shock.