• Article
  • July 19, 2019

Shock and Kids — It Can Be Life-Threatening

Recognize the signs and symptoms of shock in children

Shock occurs when the body is unable to keep up with the demand for oxygen.

Suspect Shock if a Child:

  • Has a fever or very low temperature 
  • Feels abnormally cold to touch or has overly warm, flushed skin
  • Is very drowsy, difficult to wake up, confused
  • Is short of breath, breathing fast and/or having difficulty in breathing
  • Has a fast heart rate
  • Is not eating and/or drinking
  • Has had frequent vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Has not urinated in 12 hours

These signs can indicate one of four types of shock that vary in presentation, severity, and required treatment.

Hypovolemic Shock
This is the most common type of shock and results from loss of fluid and blood. This often occurs in children experiencing vomiting and diarrhea, internal and external bleeding, and inadequate fluid intake.

Obstructive Shock
When the volume of blood the heart can pump out is inhibited, this life-threatening type of shock can occur. Symptoms can include neurological signs such as confusion, chest pain, rapid heart rate increases, shortness of breath, and sweating. Patients may be pale and have cold extremities.

Cardiogenic Shock
This type of shock occurs when the heart is suddenly unable to pump enough blood throughout the body. In children, causes of this can include congenital heart disease and other dysfunctions. Signs can include weak pulse, sudden rapid heartbeat, loss of consciousness, pallor, and cold extremities.

Distributive Shock
Abnormal distribution of blood flow occurs, leading to profound low blood pressure. Septic infections are among the causes of distributive shock. Distributive shock can be classified further as either warm (patient will be flushed, with hot skin, a wide pulse pressure and a brisk capillary refill) or cold (patient will have pale, cool skin, a narrow pulse pressure, and delayed capillary refill).

Pediatric Learning Solution’s Caring for the Pediatric Patient in Shock course can help clinicians learn more about each type of shock and better prepare them to identify and treat patients at risk of this condition.