Shock is a failure of the circulatory system and is a life-threatening medical emergency. Its key feature is inadequate blood flow to vital organs. It is considered a syndrome (a group of signs and symptoms that occur together) and can arise from any of a number of causes. It is usually associated with low blood pressure and decreased urine production.

Signs and Symptoms

Common signs and symptoms of shock include the following: What Causes It? Shock can be caused by problems with the heart itself (cardiogenic shock), conditions that block blood flow to or from the heart (extracardiac obstructive shock), severe loss of fluids (hypovolemic shock), or abnormal flow of fluids into the tissues, despite normal or increased heart function (distributive shock).

Heart problems that can cause shock include the following: Extracardiac obstructive shock can result from the following: Hypovolemic shock can result from the following: Distributive shock can result from the following:

Who's Most At Risk?

The following conditions and characteristics increase the risk for shock:

What to Expect at Your Provider's Office

Shock is an emergency and requires immediate conventional treatment. The healthcare provider will diagnose shock based on your signs and symptoms and any information readily available about underlying disease or recent injury. He or she will check blood pressure, assess mental status (memory, orientation, and alertness), measure urine output and obtain urine cultures, and order blood tests to check heart, lung, and kidney function and search for evidence of sepsis (blood infection). Imaging and other procedures—such as X ray, electrocardiography (ECG), echocardiography—may be performed to check the status of the heart. A heart catheterization may also be used to determine the cause and severity of the individual case of shock.

Treatment Options


To help prevent shock, people should have heart disease and other conditions that may predispose them to shock appropriately treated. Those who have severe allergies should avoid allergens that may trigger anaphylactic shock and carry self-injectable epinephrine to treat anaphylaxis.

Treatment Plan

The main goals of treatment are to maintain blood pressure and to make sure the person's vital organs get enough blood and oxygen. First aid for shock includes laying the person down, raising the legs to help blood return to the heart, stopping any bleeding, ensuring warmth, and performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), if needed. Emergency medical staff will administer oxygen and, in the case of hypovolemic and septic shock, intravenous fluids.

Drug Therapies

The following medications may be used to treat shock:

Surgical and Other Procedures

Depending on the cause of shock, surgery may be required to repair heart valves or rupture of a ventricle, artificially augment blood flow from the heart, or remove an embolism.

Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Shock is always life-threatening and requires emergency conventional care. Some CAM therapies, however, may be helpful as an adjunct to conventional treatment. For instance, certain nutrients may help protect against the harmful effects of shock and improve the outcome.

Oxidative stress (damage to cells caused by the body's normal use of oxygen) may play a role in shock. Several studies have suggested that treatment with antioxidants that help rid the body of free radicals (harmful by-products of the oxidative process) may protect against some types of shock. Other nutrients may also be protective. Herbs
Plant-based medicines that support the immune system may be beneficial in treating septic shock. For instance, an Ayurvedic formula containing the following ingredients helped reduce the blood levels of bacteria in rats infected with Escherichia coli (an infection that can spread to the bloodstream, potentially causing septic shock) compared to rats that received a placebo: A series of newly developed herbal remedies based on traditional Chinese medicine were evaluated for use in 183 people with septic shock. Injections of the following herbs thought to regulate the flow of qi (life energy), appeared to promote blood circulation and help prevent failure of the circulatory system as well as lower the death rate significantly in the treatment group compared to the control group: Homeopathy
Scientific studies of homeopathic remedies for the treatment of shock specifically have not been conducted. The remedy Aconite, however, is often used by homeopathic doctors for emergency conditions.

In animals with hypovolemic shock from bleeding, electroacupuncture (small electrical currents applied to acupuncture needles) raised blood pressure, protected cardiac function, and normalized the levels of various protective substances in blood. On the other hand, there have been four case reports of death from shock secondary to acupuncture – one from infection leading to septic shock and the other three caused by bleeding from the heart leading to hypovolemic shock.

Prognosis/Possible Complications

In most cases, the outcome of shock depends on receiving immediate and proper treatment. If attended to early, shock is reversible in many cases depending on its cause. Immediate treatment for anaphylactic shock, for example, usually results in complete recovery. But any case of shock is life threatening, regardless of its cause, particularly in the elderly. Shock often causes organ damage (including the kidneys, brain, and liver), cardiac arrest, and respiratory failure.

Following Up

Those who have suffered from shock will most likely be admitted to intensive care. Following treatment, the healthcare provider will carefully monitor the person's condition, including temperature, blood pressure, cardiac function, urine flow, blood chemistry, and blood cells.


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