COLUMN: Signs to look for and how to treat shock

Shock – not to be confused with emotional shock - is a life-threatening condition which happens when the body isn’t getting enough oxygen to the vital organs.

Shock can be caused by anything that reduces the flow of blood, such as:

• Severe internal or external bleeding;

• Heart problems, such as a heart attack or heart failure;

• Loss of body fluids, from dehydration, diarrhoea, vomiting or burns;

• Severe allergic reactions and severe infection;

• Spinal cord injury.

Symptoms to look out for include pale skin which may be cold and clammy, seating, a fast pulse and as shock gets worse the casualty may experience fast, shallow breathing, a weak pulse, grey blue skin, especially inside the lips, nausea and possible vomiting.

What you need to do...

• First you need to treat any cause of shock that you can see or that you have identified such as severe bleeding.

• You then need to help the casualty to lie down. Raise the casualty’s legs, supporting them on a chair, as this will help to improve the blood supply to their vital organs. If available, lay them down on a rug or blanket to protect them from the cold.

• Call 999 or 112 for emergency help and tell ambulance control you think they are in shock. If possible, explain what you think caused the shock.

• Loosen any tight clothing around the neck, chest and waist to make sure it doesn’t constrict their blood flow.

• While waiting for help to arrive cover them with a coat or blanket, to help keep them warm.

• Remember, fear and pain can make shock worse by increasing the body’s demand for oxygen, so try to reassure the casualty and keep them calm.

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