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Your body enters shock when you don’t have enough blood circulating through your system to keep your organs and tissues functioning properly. It can be caused by any injury or condition that affects the flow of blood through your body. Shock can cause multiple organ failure and lead to life-threatening complications.
There are many types of shock. They fall under four main types, which are based on what has affected the flow of blood. The four major types are:
All forms of shock are life threatening. If you develop symptoms of shock, get medical help immediately.
If you go into shock, you may experience one or more of the following:
Anything that affects the flow of blood through your body can cause shock. Some causes of shock include:
There are four major types of shock, each of which can be caused by a number of different events.
Obstructive shock occurs when blood can’t get where it needs to go. A pulmonary embolism is one condition that may cause an interruption to blood flow. Conditions that can cause a buildup of air or fluid in the chest cavity can also lead to obstructive shock. These include:
Damage to your heart can decrease the blood flow to your body, leading to cardiogenic shock. Common causes of cardiogenic shock include:
Conditions that cause your blood vessels to lose their tone can cause distributive shock. When your blood vessels lose their tone, they can become so open and floppy that not enough blood pressure supplies your organs. Distributive shock can result in symptoms including:
Anaphylactic shock is a type of distributive shock. It’s a complication of a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. Allergic reactions occur when your body mistakenly treats a harmless substance as harmful. This triggers a dangerous immune response. Anaphylaxis is usually caused by allergic reactions to food, insect venom, medications, or latex.
Septic shock is also a form of distributive shock. Sepsis, also known as blood poisoning, is a condition caused by infections that lead to bacteria entering your bloodstream. Septic shock occurs when bacteria and their toxins cause serious damage to tissues or organs in your body.
Drug toxicities and brain injuries can also lead to distributive shock.
Hypovolemic shock is caused when there isn’t enough blood in your blood vessels to carry oxygen to your organs. This can be caused by severe blood loss, for example, from injuries.
Your blood delivers oxygen and vital nutrients to your organs. If you lose too much blood, your organs can’t function properly. This type of shock can also happen from serious dehydration.
First responders and doctors often recognize shock by its external symptoms. They may also check for:
Once they’ve diagnosed shock, their first priority is to provide lifesaving treatment to get blood circulating through your body as quickly as possible. This can be done by giving fluid, drugs, blood products, and supportive care. It will not resolve unless you can find and treat the cause.
Once you’re stable, your doctor can try to diagnose the cause of shock. To do so, they may order one or more tests, such as imaging or blood tests.
Your doctor may order imaging tests to check for injuries or damage to your internal tissues and organs, such as:
Such tests include:
Your doctor may use blood tests to look for signs of:
Shock can lead to unconsciousness, breathing problems, and even cardiac arrest. If you suspect that you’re experiencing shock, get medical help immediately. If you suspect that someone else has gone into shock, call 911 and provide first-aid treatment until professional help arrives.
If you suspect someone has gone into shock, call 911. Then follow these steps.
If they’re unconscious:
If they’re breathing:
If you suspect they’ve injured their head, neck, or back, avoid moving them.
Apply first aid to any visible wounds. If you suspect they’re experiencing an allergic reaction, ask them if they have an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen). People with severe allergies often carry this device.
It contains an easy-to-inject needle with a dose of hormone called epinephrine. You can use it to treat anaphylaxis.
If they begin to vomit, turn their head sideways. This helps prevent choking. If you suspect they’ve injured their neck or back, avoid turning their head. Instead, stabilize their neck and roll their entire body to the side to clear the vomit out.
Your doctor’s treatment plan for shock will depend on the cause of your condition. Different types of shock are treated differently. For example, your doctor may use:
It’s possible to fully recover from shock. But if it isn’t treated quickly enough, shock can lead to permanent organ damage, disability, and even death. It’s critical to call 911 immediately if you suspect that you’re experiencing shock or find someone with symptoms of shock.
Your chances of recovery and long-term outlook depend on many factors, including:
Some forms and cases of shock are preventable. Take steps to lead a safe and healthy lifestyle. For example:
Written by: April Khan
Medically reviewed on: Oct 21, 2016: Carissa Stephens, RN, CCRN, CPN
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