Recognizing the signs of shock and treating them can save lives. And while minor injuries won’t likely cause our bodies to go into shock, it’s good information to know in the unlikely event that you need to use it.
Shock is likely to develop with serious illnesses or injuries, such as severe bleeding. If our circulatory system fails to deliver blood to parts of the body, specifically our organs, our body triggers a series of responses that produce specific signals known as shock. This is the body’s attempt to maintain adequate blood flow. Signs of shock are usually seen when the body experiences a problem with our heart; the amount of blood flow; or the integrity of our blood vessels. Below are the warning signs / symptoms:
- Restlessness or irritability
- Unconsciousness or altered consciousness
- Pale, cool, & moist skin
- Rapid breathing
- Rapid pulse
While shock is usually brought on by a serious injury or illness, significant fluid loss can decrease the body’s fluid and adversely affect the heart. This stress on the heart from a lack of fluids can cause an irregular heart beat or cause the heart to stop beating altogether.
Shock is a defense mechanism of the body. By diverting blood flow from the skin and extremities, the body can send blood to the vital organs in an effort to stay alive. This is why a shock victim’s skin will appear pale and feel cool. In the later stages of shock a victim’s lips and the rims around their eyes may appear blue from a prolonged lack of oxygen.
If you see someone experiencing the above signs of shock, the following steps should be taken to care for the victim:
- Have the victim lie down in a comfortable position. This can reduce the pain and stress that the victim is in.
- Control any external bleeding through direct pressure on the wound with a sterile bandage.
- If the victim is cool, cover them with a blanket to help them maintain a normal body temperature.
- Reassure the victim and try to keep them calm.
- Elevate the legs about one foot, unless you suspect an injury to the head, neck, back, or broken upper leg bones. For these injuries it’s best not to move the victim. If you’re unsure about the injury, leave them lying flat.
- Do not give the victim anything to eat or drink as this could cause an airway restriction if they loss consciousness.
- Get immediate medical attention! Shock is a serious condition and the victim will need advanced medical care right away.
Knowing the signs of shock and how to get the victim stable can keep a victim alive while waiting for emergency medical assistance. The Red Cross offers a basic first aid course that can give you the skills that you need to identify and treat minor wounds when out in the field.