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What is Shock in First Aid?

What is shock in medical terms? The best way to describe shock is that the body has lost blood (or another fluid) which carries oxygen around the body. If this blood is lost, sufficient oxygen will not reach the brain and vital organs, which can lead to coma and eventually death.

The body does try to compensate by speeding up breathing and pulse, and diverting blood into the “core” of the body. Your aim as a first aider is to stop blood loss and help restore blood supplies to the brain.

So what signs and symptoms of shock should you look out for as a first aider?

General signs and symptoms of shock

  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Rapid shallow breathing
  • Rapid, weak pulse
  • Thirsty
  • Changing level of consciousness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Yawning (air hunger)
  • Slow capillary refill time

Use this in association with what you know of the casualty’s injury: someone who has the signs and symptoms of shock along with a history of a hard blow in the stomach may be suffering from internal abdominal bleeding and hence shock.

First aid treatment of shock

Generally, there is not much you can do to reverse shock, but you can slow it down enough to get the casualty to medical help. The usual treatment is:

  • Treat any cause (eg: attempt to stop bleeding)
  • Constantly reassure the casualty
  • Lay casualty down on a blanket and raise legs to help keep blood in core
  • Keep the casualty warm
  • Loosen any tight clothing
  • Get urgent medical help
  • Monitor pulse and respiratory rate
27th September 2023
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