Shock in adults and older children

Shock is a life-threatening condition. Immediate medical care can make the difference between life and death.

Signs of shock (most of which will be present) include:

  • Passing out (losing consciousness).
  • Feeling very dizzy or lightheaded, like you may pass out.
  • Feeling very weak or having trouble standing up.
  • Being less alert. You may suddenly be unable to respond to questions, or you may be confused, restless, or fearful.

Also, a person in shock usually has an abnormal increase in heart rate and an abnormal decrease in blood pressure.

Shock may occur in response to a sudden illness or injury. When the body loses too much blood or fluids, the circulatory system cannot get enough blood to the vital organs, and shock results.

Shock is a life-threatening condition. Immediate medical care is required any time shock is suspected.

  • Call 911 or other emergency services.
  • Have the person lie down. If there is an injury to the head, neck, or chest, keep the legs flat. Otherwise, raise the person's legs at least 12 in. (32 cm).
  • If the person vomits, roll him or her to one side to let fluids drain from the mouth. Use care if there could be an injury to the back or neck.
  • Stop any bleeding, and splint any broken bones.
  • Keep the person warm but not hot. Put a blanket under the person, and cover him or her with a sheet or blanket, depending on the weather. If the person is in a hot place, try to keep him or her cool.
  • Take the person's pulse in case medical staff on the phone need to know what the pulse is. Take it again if the person's condition changes.
  • Try to keep the person calm.

Last Updated: June 10, 2008

Author: Jan Nissl, RN, BS

Medical Review: William M. Green, MD - Emergency Medicine & H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine

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