Treating for Shock
The following material may assist you in treating a victim for shock.
This information is derived from "Advanced First Aid & Emergency Care," 2nd
edition, by the American Red Cross. To obtain a copy of this book and to
take instruction in first aid, please contact the local office of the
American Red Cross. They are listed in the white pages of your telephone
Define what is "shock"
Shock is a condition resulting from a depressed state of many
vital body functions. It can threaten life even though the injuries or
conditions that caused the depression may not otherwise be fatal. The
body's vital functions are depressed when there is a loss of blood
volume, a reduced rate of blood flow or an insufficient supply of
oxygen. Injury-related shock, commonly referred to as traumatic shock,
is decidedly different from electric shock, insulin shock, and other
special forms of shock.
The degrees of shock is increased by abnormal changes in body
temperature, by poor resistance of the victim to stress, by pain, by
rough handling and by delay in treatment.
What are the causes of shock?
Shock may be caused by severe injuries of all types - hemorrhage,
loss of blood plasma in burns, muscle swelling, loss of body fluids
other than blood (as in prolonged vomiting and dysentery), by
infection, by heart attack or stroke, by perforation of a stomach
ulcer, by rupture of a tubal pregnancy, by anaphylaxis or by poisoning
involving chemicals, gases, alcohol or drugs. Shock also results from
lack of oxygen caused by obstruction of air passages or injury to the
What are the EARLY stages and signs of shock?
In the early stages of shock, the body compensates for a
decreased blood flow to the tissues by constricting the blood vessels
in the skin, soft tissues and skeletal muscles. Their constriction
causes an emergency redistribution of blood flow to the heart, brain
and other vital organs and may lead to the following signs:
a. Pale (or bluish) skin, cold to the touch and possibly moist and
clammy. In the case of victims with dark skin pigmentation, it
may be necessary to rely primarily on the color of the mucous
membranes on the inside of the mouth, on the inside of the
eyelids or in the fingernail or toenail beds.
c. Rapid pulse (usually over 100 beats per minute or over about 17
beats in 10 seconds), often too faint (due to decreased blood
pressure) to be felt at the wrist but perceptible in the carotid
artery at the side of the neck or in the femoral artery near the
d. Increased rate of breathing, possibly shallow, possibly deep and
irregular. If there has been an injury to the chest or abdomen,
breathing will almost certainly be shallow because of the pain
involved in breathing deeply. A person in shock from hemorrhage
may be restless and anxious (early signs of lack of oxygen),
thrashing about and complaining of severe thirst and he may vomit
or retch from nausea.
What are the LATE stages and signs of shock?
If the victim's condition deteriorates, he may become apathetic
and relatively unresponsive because his brain is not receiving enough
oxygen. His eyes will be sunken, with a vacant expression, and his
pupils may be widely dilated. Some of the blood vessels in the skin
may be congested, producing a mottled appearance; this condition is a
sign that the victim's blood pressure has fallen to a very low level.
If untreated, the victim eventually loses consciousness, his body
temperature falls and he may die.
What are the objectives in the treatment for shock?
The objectives of first aid care in shock are to improve
circulation of the blood, to ensure an adequate supply of oxygen and
to maintain normal body temperature.
What is the proper first aid treatment for shock?
Give urgent first aid to eliminate causes of shock, such as
stoppage of breathing, hemorrhaging and severe pain. Steps for
preventing shock and for giving first aid for shock are as follows:
a. Keep the victim lying down.
b. Keep him covered only enough to prevent loss of body heat.
c. Summon/obtain professional medical help.
The victim's position must be based on his injuries. Generally,
the most satisfactory position for the injured person will be lying
down, to improve blood circulation. If injuries of the neck or lower
spine are suspected, do NOT move the victim until he is properly
prepared for transportation, unless it is necessary to protect him
from further injury or to provide urgent first aid care.
A victim who has severe wounds on the lower part of the face and
jaw or who is unconscious should be placed on his side to allow
drainage of fluids and to avoid blockage of the airway by vomitus and
blood. Extreme care must be taken to provide an open airway and to
prevent asphyxia. Place a victim who is having difficulty in breathing
on his back, with his head and shoulders raised. A person with a back
injury may be kept flat or propped up, but his head must NOT be lower
than the rest of his body. A victim with severe brain injury may be
unconscious, but unconsciousness is not itself a cause of shock unless
he also has associated fractures or major wounds. IF IN DOUBT
CONCERNING THE CORRECT POSITION ON THE BASIS OF THE INJURIES, KEEP THE
VICTIM LYING FLAT.
A victim in shock may improve with his feet (or the foot of the
stretcher) raised from 8 to 12 inches. This position helps to improve
blood flow from the lower extremities. If in doubt as to whether the
victim's feet should be raised, keep the victim flat. If he has
increased difficulty in breathing or experiences additional pain after
his feet are raised, lower them again.
Keep the victim warm enough to overcome or avoid chilling. If he
is exposed to cold or dampness, place blankets or additional clothing
over and under him to prevent chilling.
Do NOT add extra heat, because raising the surface temperature of
the body is harmful to shock victims. Heat draws the diverted blood
supply back to the skin from the more vital organs, thus robbing them
of critically needed blood.
What are the cautions and prohibitions about giving fluids to the victim?
Although giving fluid by mouth has value in shock, fluids should
ONLY be given when medical help or trained ambulance personnel will
not reach the scene for an hour or more. Other exceptions are when
victims are unconscious, have convulsions, are vomiting or are likely
to vomit. (They may aspirate fluids into the lungs if given fluids by
mouth under these conditions.) Do not give fluids to victims who are
likely to require surgery or a general anesthetic or who appear to
have an abdominal injury. Oral fluids are harmful after injury to the
brain, because additional fluids in the body may increase swelling of
the brain. (A person with brain injury is likely to be unconscious or
vomiting.) Fluids may be given by mouth ONLY if medical care is
delayed for an hour or more and none of the above contraindications
Water, preferably water that contains salt and baking soda (1
level teaspoon of salt and 1/2 level teaspoon of baking soda to each
quart of water) and that is neither hot nor cold - is recommended.
Adults may be given about 4 ounces (1/2 glass) every 15 minutes;
children, ages 1 to 12, 2 ounces; infants, 1 year or less, 1 ounce.
Discontinue if nausea or vomiting occurs.
The preferred method of is by intravenous administration of
fluids, a technique that provides intravascular volume restoration.
However, this technique must only be used by individuals with
specialized training and with authority.