Shock is a physiological and medical emergency that can have grave consequences if not promptly recognized and treated.
It represents a critical state in which the body’s vital organs are deprived of an adequate supply of oxygen and nutrients, leading to a cascade of potentially life-threatening complications.
This article breaks down the various types and causes of shock, highlighting the importance of early intervention and the crucial role of healthcare professionals in managing this condition effectively.
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What is Shock?
Shock is a critical medical condition where blood circulation is inadequate, leading to insufficient oxygen supply to tissues. If untreated, it can cause organ damage and failure. Shock types include hypovolemic, cardiogenic, distributive, and obstructive, each stemming from different causes like blood loss, heart failure, or blockages.
There are several types of shock, each with different causes:
- Cardiogenic Shock: This type occurs when the heart fails to pump blood effectively due to damage to the heart muscle, often from a severe heart attack or cardiomyopathy. It results in inadequate circulation of blood to maintain organ function.
- Hypovolemic Shock: Caused by severe blood or fluid loss, such as from bleeding or dehydration, hypovolemic shock means there’s not enough volume (blood or fluid) in the circulatory system to sustain blood pressure and supply organs with oxygen.
- Anaphylactic Shock: This is a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction. It can lead to widespread vasodilation, increased permeability of blood vessels, and respiratory distress, resulting in a rapid drop in blood pressure and potential organ failure.
- Neurogenic Shock: This type of shock is due to a sudden loss of signals from the autonomic nervous system that maintain the tone of blood vessels. It’s often caused by spinal cord injury, which leads to massive vasodilation and pooling of blood in the veins.
- Septic Shock: A severe result of an infection, septic shock occurs when an overwhelming infection leads to life-threatening low blood pressure. It’s characterized by the body’s response to infection, causing widespread inflammation, which results in poor oxygen delivery to tissues.
- Traumatic Shock: This type of shock can be a combination of both hypovolemic shock due to blood loss and neurogenic shock due to spinal cord injury. It results from significant trauma that causes a systemic response, leading to reduced blood volume or vascular tone.
Note: Each type of shock is a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment to restore adequate blood flow and oxygen to the body’s tissues.
Sign and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of shock vary depending on its cause and severity, but there are common features that indicate the body is not receiving adequate blood flow, and may include:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Cold, clammy skin
- Dilated pupils
- Decreased urine production
- Dry mouth
- Low blood sugar
- Loss of consciousness
Note: In all types of shock, it’s critical to recognize the signs early and seek immediate medical attention. Quick and appropriate treatment increases the chances of a full recovery.
The treatment for shock involves immediate medical intervention tailored to the specific type of shock and the underlying cause.
Here’s an overview of treatments for different types of shock:
- Cardiogenic Shock: Medications like inotropes, mechanical support such as intra-aortic balloon pumps, or surgeries to repair heart damage.
- Hypovolemic Shock: IV fluids to increase blood volume, blood transfusions, and surgeries for bleeding control.
- Anaphylactic Shock: Epinephrine injections, antihistamines, steroids, and airway support with oxygen or ventilation if needed.
- Neurogenic Shock: Immobilization for spinal protection, vasopressors to increase blood pressure, and careful fluid administration.
- Septic Shock: Broad-spectrum antibiotics, aggressive fluid resuscitation, and vasopressors for persistent low blood pressure.
- Traumatic Shock: Bleeding control measures, fluid and blood replacement, and surgeries to repair injuries.
The patient’s response to initial treatment will guide further interventions, and in some cases, transfer to an intensive care unit (ICU) is necessary for specialized care.
Shock Practice Questions
1. What is the definition of shock?
Shock is a life-threatening medical condition characterized by insufficient blood flow to the body’s tissues, leading to organ dysfunction and potential failure.
2. What are the four primary types of shock?
Hypovolemic, cardiogenic, obstructive, and distributive (anaphylactic, septic, neurogenic).
3. What is perfusion?
It is the passage of fluid through the circulatory system or lymphatic system to an organ or a tissue, usually referring to the delivery of blood to a capillary bed in tissue.
4. What are the components of normal perfusion?
Heart: pump function; blood vessel: container function; and blood: content function.
5. What are the primary causes of shock?
Pump failure, poor vessel function, and low fluid volume.
6. What are the four distinct stages of shock?
Initial, compensatory, progressive and refractory.
7. What causes anaerobic metabolism in the initial stage of shock?
8. Why does peripheral edema occur in progressive shock?
Because all the fluid the body is trying to preserve during compensation is not being moved around anymore.
9. What is the refractory stage of shock?
Irreversible cell death and organ damage.
10. What is cardiogenic shock?
Cardiogenic shock is a state of inadequate circulation of blood due to the heart’s inability to pump effectively, often resulting from severe heart muscle damage or dysfunction.
11. What is the main reason for cardiogenic shock?
12. What does cardiogenic shock cause?
Inadequate heart function, congestive heart failure, myocardial infarction, severe mitral regurgitation, and ventricular tachycardia.
13. What is the treatment for cardiogenic shock?
Keep the patient comfortable, high flow oxygen, assist with ventilation, and rapid transport.
14. What pulmonary issue can occur from cardiogenic shock, and what can you treat it with?
Pulmonary edema, and you can treat it with diuretics.
15. What is obstructive shock?
Obstructive shock is an impairment of the heart to pump effectively as a result of a non-cardiac factor. It is caused by mechanical obstruction, which prevents an adequate volume of blood from filling the heart chambers. Two common causes are cardiac tamponade and tension pneumothorax.
16. How can you treat obstructive shock?
Oxygen therapy, keep the patient warm, and rapid transport.
17. What is anaphylactic shock?
Anaphylactic shock is a severe, rapid-onset allergic reaction that leads to systemic vasodilation, airway constriction, and a critical drop in blood pressure, potentially causing organ failure.
18. How do you treat anaphylactic shock?
Advanced airway, high-flow oxygen, and, if directed, epinephrine.
19. What is neurogenic shock?
Neurogenic shock is a condition caused by a sudden loss of the autonomic nervous system’s control over blood vessel tone, leading to severe vasodilation, decreased blood pressure, and inadequate blood supply to the organs.
20. What is the primary cause of neurogenic shock?
Spinal cord injury
21. What type of shock shows an increased cardiac output, fast capillary refill, and warm/flushed extremities?
22. What causes septic shock?
Severe bacterial infection
23. How do you treat septic shock?
Fluid resuscitation by administering a minimum of 20 ml/kg crystalloid to maintain 60-65 mmHg MAP; if fluid resuscitation fails, use vasopressor drugs (e.g., dopamine, norepinephrine); broad-spectrum antibiotics should be administered within 3 hours while waiting on cultures; fix any altered coagulation problem; and corticosteroids to help with inflammation.
24. How is hypovolemic shock different from cariogenic and septic shock?
Hypovolemic shock has many varied and diverse origins.
25. What are the causes of hypovolemic shock?
Severe dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, burns, diuresis, blood loss, gynecologic, trauma, DKA, surgery, and internal fluid collection.
26. What is the main cause of hypovolemic shock?
27. What amount of fluid loss puts patients at risk of hypovolemic shock?
More than 750 mL
28. How do you treat hypovolemic shock?
Try to restore the fluid volume and blood pressure.
29. What is the pathophysiology of hypovolemic shock?
The pathophysiology of hypovolemic shock involves a decrease in intravascular volume, leading to reduced venous return to the heart, diminished cardiac output, and inadequate tissue perfusion and oxygenation.
30. What happens during the initial stage of shock?
It is usually not clinically apparent, and the only changes are on a cellular level.
31. Which shock depends on fluid resuscitation?
Septic, hypovolemic, and anaphylactic.
32. What happens if we give fluids too fast?
There may be signs and symptoms of fluid overload.
33. What is hypovolemic shock?
Hypovolemic shock is a medical emergency characterized by the loss of blood or fluids in sufficient quantity to impede the circulatory system’s ability to maintain adequate oxygen delivery to the body’s tissues.
34. What is distributive shock?
Distributive shock is a category of shock resulting from widespread dilation of blood vessels, which diminishes blood flow to the body’s tissues and organs, despite an adequate blood volume.
35. What is the compensatory stage of shock?
The compensatory stage of shock is when the body experiences a state of low blood volume but can still maintain cardiac output by increasing the heart rate to restore tissue perfusion and oxygenation.
36. What happens in the progressive stage of shock?
Compensatory mechanisms fail, blood pressure goes down, heart rate goes down, and urine output decreases further.
37. What findings can occur from all types of shock?
Chest pain, lethargy, somnolence, restlessness, anxiousness, dyspnea, diaphoresis, thirst, muscle weakness, nausea, and constipation.
38. What are the causes of cardiogenic shock?
Myocardial infarction, heart failure, cardiomyopathy, dysrhythmias, and heart valve rupture or stenosis.
39. What are the causes of obstructive shock?
Blockage of the great vessels, pulmonary artery stenosis, pulmonary embolism, cardiac tamponade, tension pneumothorax, and aortic dissection.
40. What are the three subtypes of distributive shock?
Neurogenic, septic, and anaphylactic.
41. What are the causes of neurogenic shock?
Head trauma, spinal cord injury, and epidural anesthesia.
42. What is septic shock?
Septic shock is a severe and potentially fatal condition characterized by a significant drop in blood pressure and dysregulated immune response, resulting from a systemic infection leading to widespread inflammation, tissue damage, and multi-organ failure.
43. What vital signs can be observed with septic shock?
Increased temperature, increased respiratory rate, hypotension, and tachycardia.
44. What is the most common cause of septic shock?
45. What are the stages of shock?
Compensated shock, decompensated shock, and irreversible shock.
46. What is compensated shock?
The early stage of shock where the body is still able to compensate for the hypovolemic state through defense mechanisms like tachycardia and peripheral vasoconstriction.
47. What is decompensated shock?
A late or progressive stage of shock where the body can no longer compensate for the hypovolemic state, so blood pressure starts to fall.
48. What is irreversible shock?
The final stage of shock where body systems start slowing down.
49. What is one of the most pertinent late signs of shock?
Falling blood pressure
50. What are the signs and symptoms of cardiogenic shock?
Hypotension, portable cardiac history, chest pain, respiratory distress, pulmonary edema, and an altered level of consciousness.
51. What is psychogenic shock?
Psychogenic shock refers to a sudden, temporary reduction in blood flow to the brain, leading to fainting or collapse, often triggered by emotional stress or traumatic events.
52. What are the early signs and symptoms of shock?
Altered level of consciousness, anxiety, irritability, tachycardia, pale/cool skin, weak peripheral pulses, increased respiratory rate, thirst, and delayed capillary refill.
53. What are the late signs and symptoms of shock?
Falling blood pressure, irregular breathing, cyanosis, and absence of peripheral pulses.
54. How do you manage shock?
Shock management involves prompt assessment and stabilization of the patient’s airway, breathing, and circulation, followed by specific interventions like fluid resuscitation, medications, and treatments targeting the underlying cause of the shock.
55. What happens when the body goes into shock?
When the body goes into shock, it experiences a critical reduction in blood flow, leading to a decrease in the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to cells and an accumulation of waste products, which can result in cellular dysfunction, organ failure, and, if not promptly treated, death.
Shock is a critical condition that demands immediate attention and intervention. Whether it stems from traumatic injuries, severe infections, or other underlying medical conditions, the consequences of untreated shock can be devastating.
Timely recognition, appropriate medical care, and a comprehensive understanding of the various types of shock are essential in improving patient outcomes and saving lives.
Through ongoing research and education, healthcare professionals continue to enhance their ability to identify, manage, and mitigate the effects of shock, offering hope and a lifeline to those in dire need.
John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others breathe easier and live a healthier life.
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- Rrt, Des Terry Jardins MEd, and Burton George Md Facp Fccp Faarc. Clinical Manifestations and Assessment of Respiratory Disease. 8th ed., Mosby, 2019.
- Haseer Koya H, Paul M. Shock. [Updated 2023 Jul 24]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023.