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hypovolaemic shock

Alternative Names

Shock is a condition in which the body is unable to supply enough blood and oxygen to the organs. One form of shock is caused by dehydration or heavy bleeding. This is known as hypovolaemic shock.

What is going on in the body?
Blood, which contains fluid, cells, and other particles, carries oxygen through the body. Oxygen is required to keep body tissues alive. When there is a severe decrease in blood or total body fluid, hypovolaemic shock occurs. If this situation is not corrected right away, the person will die.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?
hypovolaemic shock can cause the following:
  • cold, pale skin
  • rapid heartbeat
  • low blood pressure
  • confusion
  • passing out
  • reduced urine output
  • a weak pulse
What are the causes and risks of the condition?
hypovolaemic shock is usually caused by massive blood loss or severe dehydration. Blood loss may be the result of gastrointestinal bleeding, internal bleeding due to an injury, a haemorrhage, or severe burns. Severe diarrhoea or vomiting, excessive sweating, or not drinking enough fluid causes dehydration.

What can be done to prevent the condition?
In many cases, hypovolaemic shock cannot be prevented. It often occurs after an accident or severe illness.

People should avoid dehydration by drinking enough fluids, especially if:
  • the climate or weather is warm
  • vomiting or diarrhoea occurs
A drink that balances essential salts and sugars, such as a commercial hydration solution, helps if the vomiting or diarrhoea is severe.

How is the condition diagnosed?
Shock is usually diagnosed by a person's symptoms and a physical examination. If the exact cause of shock is not clear, blood tests, x-ray tests, and other tests need to be done.

What are the long-term effects of the condition?
If not treated quickly, hypovolaemic shock can lead to irreversible brain and kidney damage, cardiac arrest, and ultimately death.

What are the risks to others?
There are no risks to others because this condition is not contagious.

What are the treatments for the condition?
Emergency treatment for hypovolaemic shock includes prompt replacement of fluid and/or blood. Usually, this is done through a needle in a vein known as an IV. Any bleeding sites must be found so that blood loss can be controlled.

People in shock are very ill and may need to be put on a ventilator, or artificial breathing machine, temporarily. Medications may be needed to support blood pressure or treat other complications. Surgery may be needed to treat any injuries present.

What are the side effects of the treatments?
  • Blood transfusions can cause allergic reactions and infections.
  • All medications have side effects. These may include allergic reactions, stomach upset, and other problems. For example, some of the drugs used to support blood pressure can cause irregular heartbeats.
  • The risks of surgery may include bleeding, infection, and even death.
What happens after treatment for the condition?
When shock is treated and people recover, they often do well. Sometimes, permanent damage to organs or tissues requires ongoing treatment.

How is the condition monitored?
Depending on the person's health status, monitoring may include physical examinations, blood tests, and x-ray tests.

Author: Adam Brochert, MD
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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