shock, any condition in which the circulatory system is unable to provide adequate circulation to the body tissues, also called circulatory failure or circulatory collapse. Shock results in the slowing of vital functions and in severe cases, if untreated, in death. It may be caused by inadequate pumping by the heart, by reduction of the blood volume due to dehydration or to loss of blood or plasma, or by reduced blood pressure resulting from dilation of the blood vessels. Inadequate pumping may occur as a result of various kinds of heart disease. Blood loss may result from injuries or from such internal conditions as bleeding ulcers. Burns produce extensive plasma loss from blood vessels into the burned area; crush injuries may result in loss of blood and plasma into the injured tissues. Dilation of blood vessels may be caused by injury to the nervous system, or by pain or emotional stress. Fainting is a form of shock brought about by a sudden reduction of the blood supply to the brain. Symptoms of shock include weakness, pallor, cold and moist skin, and thirst. The arterial blood pressure is reduced, the pulse is weak and rapid, and the surface veins of the limbs may collapse. Emergency aid for shock victims includes maintaining a clear breathing passage, administering oxygen, controlling bleeding, and keeping the patient warm and in a supine position with legs elevated. Therapy may include blood or plasma transfusion to restore the normal circulation, as well as treatment of the underlying cause of shock. The term shock is also applied to a variety of other conditions such as electric shock, allergic shock (see anaphylaxis), and emotional shock. See first aid.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.