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
     respiratory system.

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.

     b.   Weakness.

     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

          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.