Recognizing and Responding to Signs of Shock

Shock is a condition in which your body doesn't have enough blood and oxygen. This can happen when you lose a lot of blood or fluid, or when your heart isn't beating well enough to pump blood through your body.

What Is Shock?

Shock is not a disease, but rather a condition in which the body's circulatory system fails to provide an adequate supply of oxygen to the tissues. It can be life-threatening if it persists for too long. Shock may result from many different conditions; some common causes include trauma or burns; allergic reactions; blood loss; poisoning (such as carbon monoxide poisoning), and many others.

How do you know if someone is experiencing shock? The shock will produce some of these signs:

  • Pale or blue skin color
  • Fast breathing or gasping breaths with little chest movement
  • High blood pressure with a weak pulse (pulse rate less than 60 beats per minute)

Signs and symptoms of shock

Signs and symptoms of shock include:

  • pale, clammy skin (pallor)
  • rapid pulse (tachycardia)
  • weakness or dizziness (asthenia)
  • confusion (altered mental status)
  • nausea and vomiting
  • shallow breathing (hypoventilation) 
  • dilated pupils

Causes of shock

You may be surprised to learn that shock is not just a condition of war, but also an emergency that can arise from many different causes. Shock is caused by many conditions: an injury, a medical condition, or even a drug reaction. One of the most common types of shock comes from serious injuries such as gunshot wounds or burns. A person experiencing this kind of trauma will lose blood flow through their body and become pale or even blue in color as they go into cardiac arrest (when their heart stops beating). This loss of blood flow means less oxygen reaching vital organs like the brain, which results in confusion and unconsciousness--two signs we'll talk about later on!

If someone's breathing but unconscious due to severe bleeding from an injury or medical condition such as diabetes mellitus (a disease where there's too much sugar in your blood), don't worry--you still have time before things get worse! Put on gloves before you touch anything so you don't contaminate evidence; then call 911 immediately so paramedics can come to help the victim right away while waiting for further instructions over the phone until they arrive at your location."

Diagnosing shock

  • If you think someone is experiencing shock, check for a pulse. If you can't find one, call 911 immediately.
  • Check for breathing by placing your ear on their chest and listening for normal breaths (or feel their belly rise with each breath). If they're not breathing normally, administer CPR as quickly as possible until help arrives.
  • Keep them warm by wrapping them in blankets or clothing if possible; avoid applying heat directly to the skin because this could cause burns and damage tissue further along in treatment processes like surgery or defibrillation therapy if needed later on after stabilization has been achieved through other means such as IV fluids administered by medical professionals who know what they're doing versus trying something at home that could make things worse instead of better!

Treating shock and identifying an emergency medical technician (EMT)

First, identify the victim. Call for help immediately, if you are able. Check for breathing and pulse; if you find none, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). If you are able to do so safely and effectively, provide first aid until help arrives or the victim regains consciousness.

Move the victim to a warm dry place that is out of danger from further injury or exposure to cold temperatures (e.g., do not move them into an icy stream). Do not give food or drink to anyone who is unconscious because it may cause aspiration pneumonia--a serious condition in which food or liquid gets into their lungs instead of going down their esophagus as intended. Expect to see signs of shock most often among people who have experienced motor vehicle accidents; house fires; natural disasters such as earthquakes; falls from height; drowning/submersion injuries such as those caused by boating accidents

Codes, procedures, and self-rescue techniques for victims of shock

You can help a person in shock by:

  • Treating the cause of their shock. If they are bleeding, stop the bleeding with direct pressure or a tourniquet. If they are having trouble breathing, administer CPR if necessary and seek medical attention right away.
  • Giving them fluids to combat dehydration caused by blood loss or vomiting (see below). If you don't have access to clean water, give them fruit juice instead; it contains sugar and electrolytes (minerals) that will replace what's lost during shock.
  • Avoiding medications that can cause further problems with fluid balance such as diuretics (water pills).


  • Shock is a life-threatening medical emergency. If you don't know how to recognize the signs and symptoms of shock, you won't be able to respond appropriately.
  • Knowing how to respond is just as important as recognizing the signs of shock. If someone has been injured and needs medical attention, there's no time for hesitation or second-guessing yourself--you must act quickly!
  • When in doubt about what steps you should take next, treat all injuries as though they were serious until proven otherwise (e.g. if your patient has a bleeding wound on their arm but seems otherwise okay).


Shock is a medical emergency and should be treated as such. It can lead to death if not treated quickly, so it's important to recognize the signs of shock and respond accordingly. If you or someone else experiences any of these symptoms, contact 911 immediately or go to an emergency room: pale skin color; clammy hands; fast heartbeat; weak pulse (feeling faint); nausea; vomiting; confusion; feeling cold despite warm surroundings

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