What to Do When Someone is in Shock: Prevention & Treatment

Shock is a very dangerous condition that can even be fatal in the worst cases. Knowing what to do when someone is in shock could help you save a life, and this guide will cover all you need to know about how to provide first aid for shock and how to prevent shock, as well as look at the signs and causes.

What Is Shock?

Before we look at treatment for shock or shock first aid, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what this word actually means. In simple terms, shock is a condition that occurs when the body fails to maintain sufficient blood flow. It can be caused by sudden trauma, blood loss, and even allergic responses, among other causes.

The Importance of Being Able to Respond to Shock

Knowing how to treat someone in shock is absolutely essential, as shock can be a dangerous and damaging condition. As the state of shock continues, the person’s vital organs won’t receive enough blood and oxygen, which can lead to severe organ damage, organ failure, and even death. However, if you can provide first aid for shock in time, the worst outcome can be avoided.

Signs and Symptoms of Shock

It’s important to know what to do when someone goes into shock, but you also have to be able to recognize it when it happens. Here are some of the most common things to look out for in a person who is experiencing shock:

  • Cool, pale, and clammy or sweaty skin
  • Lips and fingernails that look blue or gray
  • A very fast pulse or heartbeat
  • Very rapid breathing
  • A sensation of nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Wide pupils
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • General weakness and tiredness
  • Emotional or mental changes, like anxiety, sudden nerves, or feelings of confusion

Causes of Shock

There are various possible causes of shock. Here are some of the most common:

  • An injury that leads to major blood loss
  • Internal bleeding
  • Heart conditions, such as a heart attack
  • Excessive loss of bodily fluids through vomiting, diarrhea, or dehydration
  • Burn injuries
  • Allergic reactions
  • Certain infections
  • Injury to the spinal cord or nervous system
  • A side effect of certain medications

Identifying the root cause of shock may be simple or complex, depending on the situation. Naturally, if someone has been in an accident and suffered severe blood loss, it’s easy to see how shock may occur, but for allergic reactions or medication side effects, the root cause can be harder to discern. Regardless of the cause, if you suspect a person is in shock, the best thing to do is treat them and seek emergency care right away.

Video courtesy of ProCPR.

Treatment for Shock

Next, let’s look at what to do if someone is in shock and the correct steps to follow for shock first aid treatment.

  • To begin with, the most immediate course of action to treat shock is to deal with the root cause, if you can identify it. Carry out a visual check of the patient to look for signs of what causes the shock, such as bleeding or burns, and treat as needed.
  • It’s also vital to dial 911 and seek emergency professional care for the patient as soon as possible. You may be able to provide some basic first aid, but professional help will be needed to prevent further complications.
  • Lie the person down on their back and lift up their legs. You can make use of a chair or other piece of furniture to support the legs, and this should help to promote blood flow and get the blood pumping back to the key organs like the heart, brain, and lungs, where it is needed most.
  • Try to ensure that the victim remains as still as possible, and avoid moving them any further, unless absolutely necessary, while you wait for paramedics to arrive on the scene.
  • Loosen any tight clothes on the patient’s body, especially around the neck, to help them breathe and allow the blood to flow more easily, but keep them covered up with warm blankets or coats.
  • Speak with the patient and do what you can to keep them calm. Fear and stress can make the situation worse, and a calming presence can make a real difference for a patient dealing with shock. Calming them down may help them breathe a little easier, which can aid with various symptoms they might be experiencing.
  • Monitor the patient while you wait for help. If they vomit, move them onto their side to avoid choking. If they stop breathing or moving, you may also need to perform CPR to resuscitate them. This involves putting the patient on their back and performing chest compressions, as well as rescue breaths. It’s best to have CPR training in order to carry out CPR effectively and have the best chances of bringing someone back after they lose consciousness or stop breathing.
  • If you have to transport the patient to the hospital yourself, help them into the vehicle and ask for help from other people if needed. Drive carefully and cautiously, and if you don’t feel it would be safe to transport the victim, wait for an ambulance instead.

Prevention of Shock

It’s helpful to know how to prevent it from occurring in the first place. Unfortunately, since the causes of shock are so diverse, and shock is often linked with unforeseen accidents and injuries, it can be a difficult thing to prevent.

  • Be cautious when engaging in any risky or dangerous activity that could lead to severe injuries or blood loss, like extreme sports.
  • In addition, don’t participate in those kinds of activities alone. Always have someone else nearby who can help you or call for help if an accident happens and you go into shock.
  • Be aware of any allergies that you have and avoid allergens at all costs to prevent allergy-related shock responses.
  • Practice good hygiene in order to reduce your risks of infection-related shock.
  • Stay hydrated throughout the day to keep your cells and organs healthy and functioning correctly.
  • Practice healthy lifestyle techniques like regular exercise and a good diet to stay healthy and keep blood flowing freely throughout your body. Those who are overweight or have lots of cholesterol and heart problems may be more prone to shock.
  • Be cautious when trying new medications for the first time. Speak with your doctor if you’re worried or unsure about anything.


As we can see, shock is a serious condition that can be terrifying to experience, both for the victim and those around them. Victims in shock aren’t really able to help themselves and can even lose consciousness entirely, as well as lose control of their bodies, so it’s up to people nearby to take responsibility and help.

Knowing what is the correct treatment for shock and how to respond is so vital, especially if you’re living with someone or caring for someone who may be at higher-than-average risk of shock. Hopefully, this guide has shown the key steps to follow and relevant information you need to be ready if ever a case of shock occurs to someone near you.

Shock Emergency FAQ

How long does shock last?

The duration of shock can vary depending on the underlying cause, the severity of the situation, and the individual’s overall health. In many cases, shock is a temporary condition that lasts for a short period, typically a few minutes to a few hours. However, in more severe cases or when shock is caused by a significant injury or medical condition, it may last longer, potentially several hours or even days. It is crucial to seek immediate medical attention for someone experiencing shock to determine the cause, provide appropriate treatment, and monitor their condition until they stabilize.

What are the 4 stages of shock?

The four stages of shock are often referred to as the “shock continuum” and are as follows:

  • Initial Stage (Compensatory Stage): In this stage, the body’s initial response to shock begins. The body attempts to compensate for the decreased blood flow and oxygen delivery by constricting blood vessels, increasing heart rate, and diverting blood to vital organs. Symptoms may include anxiety, restlessness, increased heart rate, and cool and pale skin.
  • Non-Progressive Stage (Decompensatory Stage): If the underlying cause of shock is not corrected or treated, the body enters the non-progressive stage. At this point, compensatory mechanisms become overwhelmed, and the condition worsens. Blood pressure drops, blood flow to organs decreases, and cells begin to suffer from inadequate oxygen and nutrient supply. Symptoms may include decreased blood pressure, rapid and weak pulse, decreased urine output, and altered mental status.
  • Progressive Stage: In this stage, the body’s vital organs, such as the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys, experience significant damage due to inadequate blood flow. The condition continues to deteriorate, and the body’s compensatory mechanisms fail to restore balance. Symptoms may include profound hypotension (very low blood pressure), weak or absent pulses, respiratory distress, organ failure, and mental confusion.
  • Refractory Stage (Irreversible Stage): The refractory stage is the most severe and final stage of shock. At this point, the damage to vital organs is widespread and irreversible. Despite aggressive medical interventions, the body cannot recover, and multiple organ failure occurs. This stage is often fatal, and the chances of survival are extremely low.

Why elevate legs for shock?

Elevating the legs is a first-aid measure often recommended for managing shock. The rationale behind this technique is to help increase blood flow to the heart and vital organs, thus improving circulation and reducing the severity of shock symptoms. Here’s why elevating the legs can be beneficial:

  • Improved Venous Return: Elevating the legs above the level of the heart helps facilitate venous blood flow back to the heart. By elevating the legs, gravity assists in returning blood from the lower extremities toward the core, promoting better circulation.
  • Increased Cardiac Output: By improving venous return, elevating the legs helps increase the volume of blood returned to the heart. This, in turn, enhances the cardiac output—the amount of blood pumped by the heart per minute—improving the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to vital organs.
  • Enhanced Perfusion: Proper blood flow and oxygen delivery are crucial for organ function. By elevating the legs, blood flow to vital organs, such as the brain, heart, and lungs, can be improved, ensuring these organs receive the necessary oxygen and nutrients to maintain their functions.

Should you talk to someone in shock?

When dealing with someone in shock, it is generally recommended to approach them calmly and provide reassurance through verbal communication. Here are some guidelines to consider when talking to someone in shock:

  • Maintain a Calm and Reassuring Tone: Speak in a calm and soothing manner to help create a sense of comfort and security for the person in shock. Avoid speaking loudly or using a panicked tone, as it may exacerbate their distress.
  • Offer Reassurance: Assure the person that help is on the way and that they are not alone. Reiterate that you are there to support them and that everything possible is being done to provide the necessary care.
  • Encourage Consciousness and Engagement: Speak to the person by using their name and encouraging them to remain conscious and engaged. Ask simple questions that require brief responses to assess their mental status and keep them focused on the conversation.
  • Avoid Overwhelming Information: Be mindful not to overload the person with excessive information or details about their condition or the situation. Stick to clear and concise instructions or reassurances to avoid adding unnecessary stress.
  • Listen and Validate: Allow the person to express their concerns or fears. Actively listen to their words and provide validation and empathy when appropriate. Acknowledge their feelings and let them know that their experiences and emotions are valid.
  • Avoid Arguing or Challenging: Keep in mind that the person in shock may not be thinking clearly or logically. Avoid arguing or challenging their statements, as it can increase their distress. Instead, focus on providing support and understanding.

Helpful Resources

Scroll to Top