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What is Hypovolemic Shock?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Feb 23, 2024
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Hypovolemic shock is an emergency medical condition in which a person suffers significant loss of blood and other fluids due to internal or external injuries. Low blood pressure severely limits the heart's ability to pump blood throughout the body, resulting in rapid breathing, mental confusion, weakness, and possibly unconsciousness. It is essential to receive immediate treatment when experiencing hypovolemic shock to restore blood levels and prevent permanent damage of the heart and other internal organs.

When the body loses blood from external injuries or internal bleeding, the heart cannot effectively provide oxygen to the arms, legs, and brain. Internal organs are affected as they cannot receive important nutrients. The body's response to losing more than 20 percent of its total blood supply is to enter hypovolemic shock, a state in which the heart rate races, blood vessels constrict, and essential bodily functions begin to shut down. This type of shock commonly occurs after losing a large quantity of blood from a severe wound, such as a gunshot or a deep cut. Internal ruptures of the gastrointestinal tract or brain aneurysms also lead to hypovolemic shock.

A person entering a state of shock usually experiences lightheadedness, weakness, and mental confusion. He or she may become nauseated and dizzy, and lose the ability to fully control motor movements. Lethargy sets in within a few minutes, and massive blood loss can cause the person to lose consciousness. Without treatment, blood loss can result in permanent damage to the kidneys, liver, heart, and brain. Death is a possibility if the heart and lungs shut down.

Individuals who witness an accident and recognize signs of hypovolemic shock should contact emergency medical responders immediately. It is important to keep the person's body still and attempt to compress any exposed wounds while waiting for professional help. Emergency medical technicians usually begin treatment by providing oxygen, stopping the bleeding, and providing intravenous fluids to maintain internal organ functioning.

Upon admittance into a hospital, doctors quickly determine the location of injuries and the amount of blood lost. Physicians generally try to restore blood pressure by administering emergency intravenous medicine and blood products. Patients receive continuous supplies of fluids and oxygen to stabilize heart rate and bodily functions. Surgery may be necessary to close or cauterize wounds, in order to stop further blood loss.

Medical monitoring and follow-up care are important to make sure that a person who has suffered hypovolemic shock does not experience permanent problems, such as kidney, heart, or brain damage. Doctors use diagnostic equipment such as electroencephalograms to monitor heart activity. Patients may be prescribed medication to combat blood pressure issues and promote healing of their injuries. With proper treatment and monitoring, many people are able to fully recover from hypovolemic shock.

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Discussion Comments
By burcinc — On May 16, 2011

I think that the body is able to manage if there is only about 20% of fluid loss. But if there is any more than that, it can no longer keep up functions. That's why it's so important to rush to the hospital.

If there's been an accident and someone has lost some blood, they are still conscious and look okay, it doesn't meant that it won't get worse. The point is to help them get back that fluid in time before damage happens to the organs. Because then, the shock enters the irreversible stage.

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