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How to prevent and treat shock in an injured person.

Treatment for conscious and unconscious victims

Treating a victim of shockShock progresses through three stages.  It begins in stage one: “compensated shock”.  During this stage the brain realizes that something is wrong with the body and begins to route blood to the body’s vital organs.  The second stage of shock is “decompensated shock” where the body has lost too much blood or not enough oxygen is reaching the vital organs.  At this point, the body begins to give up and death is very near.  The final stage is “irreversible shock”.  Once the body reaches this stage all hope of survival is lost.

Shock is a life-threatening condition that usually results from severe physiological stress and/or the lack of sufficient blood flow.  Any injured person can go into shock.  To prevent or reduce harm from shock, you must treat an injured person appropriately.

Injuries that promote shock

Although shock can result from any injury, it is most often associated with the following types of injuries:

  • Blood loss
  • Severe head injury
  • Severe infections (septic shock)
  • Heart failure
  • Severe burns
  • Severe trauma
  • Dehydration
  • Severe allergic reactions (anaphylactic shock)

Signs that a person is going into shock

It’s important to recognize when a person is going into shock.  The following are typical signs and symptoms of shock:

  • Pale, cold, clammy skin
  • Rapid pulse
  • Sweating
  • Nervousness and agitation
  • Disorientation
  • Thirst
  • Bleeding and or blood loss
  • Rapid breathing
  • Blue tinged skin
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Weakened pulse
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Unconsciousness

How to prevent an injured person from going into shock

To help prevent or alleviate shock, you should treat injured persons as follows:

  • If the victim is conscious, place the victim on a level surface with the legs elevated 6 to 8 inches so that the legs are higher than the heart (this position is called the “shock position”).
  • If the victim is not conscious, place them on their side or stomach with the head turned to one side to prevent choking on vomit, blood, or other fluids.
  • Once the victim is in shock, do not move them.
  • If the victim is wet, remove the wet clothing.
  • If the weather is cold, use blankets, clothing, or an external heat source (another person, hot rocks wrapped in clothing, or fire on either side of the victim) to keep the victim warm.  If the weather is hot, move the victim to a shaded area and keep them out of the sun.
  • If the victim is conscious, give them small doses of water mixed with salt or sugar.  If the victim is not conscious, do not give them any fluids by mouth.
  • Allow the victim to rest for 24 hours.

The drawings below illustrate how a conscious and unconscious victim should be treated.

Treatment for conscious and unconscious victims
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