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First Aid 


Shock is a life threatening condition characterized by deprivation of oxygen in vital organs such as the brain and heart. The most common cause of shock is from severe blood loss from either external or internal bleeding. Shock develops when an individual loses approximately 1.2 liters of blood. Shock can also result from severe fluid loss (diarrhea, vomiting, bowel obstruction, burns), trauma, heatstroke, allergic reactions (anaphylactic shock), infection (septic shock), poisoning, failure of the heart to pump blood (cardiogenic shock), or spinal cord injury (neurogenic shock). 

Symptoms of shock include:

  • Rapid or weak pulse

  • Enlarged pupils

  • Pale, cold, or clammy skin

  • Sweating

  • Weakness/dizziness

  • Rapid, shallow breathing

  • Gray/blue lips, skin, or fingernails

  • Poor capillary refill (color does not return well when fingernails are pressed)

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Thirst

  • Yawning or gasping

  • Restlessness, aggression, or anxiety

  • Unconsciousness

To help treat shock, take the following steps:

  1. Call for emergency medical assistance; identify and treat the cause of shock (severe external bleeding, anaphylaxis, etc.).

  2. Have the person lie down and elevate their feet and legs above heart level. 

  3. Loosen any tight clothing, especially around the neck, chest, and waist. Cover the individual with a blanket to prevent chilling.

  4. Don’t give anything to eat or drink. If the person begins vomiting or bleeding from the mouth, turn them on their side to prevent choking. 

  5. Monitor vital signs and response level. If the person becomes unresponsive, is not breathing, and has no pulse, begin CPR and rescue breathing immediately. 


Austin, M., Crawford, R., & Armstrong, V. J. (2014). First aid manual. (G. M. Piazza, Ed.) (5th ed.). DK Publishing.

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2021, April 29). Shock: First aid. Mayo Clinic.

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