Shock occurs when inadequate blood flow threatens the function of multiple organs. Shock is a potentially life-threatening condition. The sooner it is treated, the better the outcome. If you suspect someone is in shock, dial 911 immediately.


Some causes of shock include:

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Heart attack]]>
  • Spinal cord injury
  • ]]>Sepsis]]> (infection of the blood)
  • Other severe infection
  • Allergic reaction
  • Poisoning
  • ]]>Trauma]]>
  • Heatstroke

Risk Factors

The following factors increase your chances of developing shock:

  • Pre-existing heart disease
  • Impaired immunity
  • Severe allergies


If you experience any of these, do not assume it is because of shock. These symptoms may be caused by other, less serious health conditions. If you experience any one of them, see your doctor. The symptoms of shock depend on the cause.

Symptoms may include:

  • Weakness
  • Altered mental status
  • Cool and clammy skin
  • Low blood pressure
  • Decreased urination
  • Weak and rapid pulse
  • Slow and shallow or rapid and deep breathing
  • Lackluster (dull) eyes
  • Dilated pupils

Symptom of Shock

Dilated and Constricted pupil
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.


When you arrive at the hospital, your doctor will perform a physical exam.

Tests may include the following:

  • Breathing assessment
  • Blood pressure measurement
  • Heart rate monitoring
  • Other tests, depending on the cause of shock


Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Treatment options include the following:

Breathing Resuscitation

If you are having trouble breathing, your doctor will clear your airway. Oxygen and breathing assistance may be provided if you need it.

Optimizing Blood Pressure and Heart Rate

You may receive an IV and/or blood transfusions. These will stabilize your blood pressure and heart rate.

Insertion of IV for Transfusion or Medications

© 2009 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.


You may be given vasopressor medications. These constrict your blood vessels to increase blood pressure. Inotrope medications may also be used to increase your heart contractions.


To help reduce your chances of getting shock, take the following steps:

  • Prevent or control heart disease.
  • Avoid activities that put you at risk of falls or other injuries.
  • Carry an epinephrine pen with you if you have a severe allergy.