What is shock?
The term “shock” may refer to a psychologic or a physiologic type of shock.
Psychologic shock is caused by a traumatic event and is also known as acute stress disorder. This type of shock causes a strong emotional response and may cause physical responses as well.
The focus of this article is on the multiple causes of physiologic shock.
Your body experiences shock when you don’t have enough blood circulating through your system to keep 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 lead to multiple organ failure as well as life-threatening complications.
There are many types of shock. They fall under four main categories, based on what has affected the flow of blood. The four major types are:
- obstructive shock
- cardiogenic shock
- distributive shock
- hypovolemic shock
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:
- rapid, weak, or absent pulse
- irregular heartbeat
- rapid, shallow breathing
- cool, clammy skin
- dilated pupils
- lackluster eyes
- chest pain
- decrease in urine
- thirst and dry mouth
- low blood sugar
- loss of consciousness
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:
- pneumothorax (collapsed lung)
- hemothorax (blood collects in the space between the chest wall and lung)
- cardiac tamponade (blood or fluids fill the space between the sac that surrounds the heart and the heart muscle)
Damage to your heart can decrease the blood flow to your body, leading to cardiogenic shock. Common causes of cardiogenic shock include:
- damage to your heart muscle
- irregular heart rhythm
- very slow heart rhythm
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:
- low blood pressure
- loss of consciousness
There are a number of types of distributive shock, including the following:
Anaphylactic shock is 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 another 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.
Neurogenic shock is caused by damage to the central nervous system, usually a spinal cord injury. This causes blood vessels to dilate, and the skin may feel warm and flushed. The heart rate slows, and blood pressure drops very low.
Drug toxicities and brain injuries can also lead to distributive shock.
Hypovolemic shock happens 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. Serious dehydration can also cause this type of shock.
First responders and doctors often recognize shock by its external symptoms. They may also check for:
- low blood pressure
- weak pulse
- rapid heartbeat
Once they’ve diagnosed shock, their first priority is to provide lifesaving treatment to get blood circulating through the body as quickly as possible. This can be done by giving fluid, drugs, blood products, and supportive care. It won’t resolve unless they 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:
- bone fractures
- organ ruptures
- muscle or tendon tears
- abnormal growths
Such tests include:
Your doctor may use blood tests to look for signs of:
- significant blood loss
- infection in your blood
- drug or medication overdose
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.
First aid treatment
If you suspect someone has gone into shock, call 911. Then follow these steps:
If they’re breathing: