Shock is defined as low blood pressure so low that the body cannot maintain vital functions. It can occur from malfunction of the heart, from loss of blood and fluids and from decreased tone of the muscles in the walls of the blood vessels. Shock from emotional trauma is a totally different disorder.
Causes of Shock
Shock can be caused by blood loss. This can be internal, such as might occur with a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, gastrointestinal bleeding or a ruptured spleen. Fluid loss can occur, leading to inadequate fluid within the vascular system. This might occur with severe burns or peritonitis. The heart may not contract sufficiently, or the rate of contraction can be too slow or too fast to provide adequate pumping. Fluid or blood can develop in the space around the heart, pericarditis or pericardial tamponade, restricting blood return to the heart. Pulmonary embolism can occur, affect blood flow through the lungs. Systemic infections, such as sepsis or toxic shock syndrome, can lead to loss of the normal tone of the blood vessels. This enlargement of the small vessels, or arterioles, leads to rapid decrease in the blood pressure. Some endocrine diseases, such as Addison's disease, can produce low blood pressure. The heart may fail as a pump. This can occur from heart attacks, from enlargement of the heart as is seen with heart failure, or from acute failure of one of the heart valves.
Signs and Symptoms of Shock
When shock occurs, the body tries increase the blood flow to the vital organs. This leads to diminished flow to the skin, producing cold hands and feet and pale skin. The heart rate is rapid, but the pulse may be very weak and may not be felt at all. Increased output of the sympathetic nervous system drives the heart and also causes sweating. Shortness of breath and rapid breathing develop. As the brain receives less than adequate blood supply, disorientation, confusion and finally coma may develop.
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Medical Content Last Updated on 07/12/2008
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