First Aid: Shock

Shock occurs when the body’s supply of oxygen-carrying blood to vital organs decreases. Without enough oxygen to fuel its parts, the body can’t function properly and death may occur.  This occurs in several circumstances. You may be in shock because you have lost too much blood (hemorrhagic or hypovolemic shock). You may also be in shock due to an overwhelming infection, allergic reaction or injury to your spinal cord (vasodilatory shock). Another form of shock is when your heart is not working properly and is unable to pump blood throughout the body (cardiogenic shock). In many cases, first aid can only slow the progression of this life-threatening condition.

Call 911 at the first sign of shock.

Signs of shock

  • The skin or the pink tissue inside the lower lip may turn pale.

  • The skin may feel cold and damp.

  • The pulse may be so light and barely able to feel it, or race so fast that you can’t count the beats.

  • The victim may be confused or unable to concentrate or may stare blankly. Over time, the victim may even become unconscious.

What to do

Step 1. Treat threats to life

  • Call 911.

  • If victim is unconscious but breathing, position the head and neck to keep the airway open.

  • Do CPR, if needed.

  • Control any severe bleeding to help keep shock from worsening. Wear gloves or use other protection to avoid contact with victim’s blood. Apply direct pressure on the wound to control the bleeding.

Step 2. Care for shock

  • Call 911.

  • Place victim on his or her back with both feet raised about 12 inches, helping to send blood to the heart, lungs, and brain. Do this only if there are no possible broken bones or possible hip, back, or head injury. Don't raise the feet if it causes the victim pain.

  • Cover victim, if needed, to maintain body temperature.

  • Keep victim quiet and calm. Speaking uses oxygen and worsens the effects of shock.

  • Don't give the victim anything to eat or drink.