Hemorrhagic Shock in Emergency Medicine

Updated: May 06, 2016
  • Author: William P Bozeman, MD; Chief Editor: Trevor John Mills, MD, MPH  more...
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Shock is a state of inadequate perfusion, which does not sustain the physiologic needs of organ tissues. Many conditions, including blood loss but also including nonhemorrhagic states such as dehydration, sepsis, impaired autoregulation, obstruction, decreased myocardial function, and loss of autonomic tone, may produce shock or shocklike states.

In hemorrhagic shock, reduced tissue perfusion results in inadequate delivery of oxygen and necessary for cellular function. The state of shock occurs when the cellular oxygen demand outweighs the supply. See the Medscape articles hemorrhagic shock and hypovolemic shock. [1, 2]



In hemorrhagic shock, blood loss exceeds the body's ability to compensate and provide adequate tissue perfusion and oxygenation. This frequently is due to trauma, but it may be caused by spontaneous hemorrhage (eg, GI bleeding, childbirth), surgery, and other causes.

Most frequently, clinical hemorrhagic shock is caused by an acute bleeding episode with a discrete precipitating event. Less commonly, hemorrhagic shock may be seen in chronic conditions with subacute blood loss.

Physiologic compensation mechanisms for hemorrhage include initial peripheral and mesenteric vasoconstriction to shunt blood to the central circulation. This is then augmented by a progressive tachycardia. Invasive monitoring may reveal an increased cardiac index, increased oxygen delivery (ie, DO2), and increased oxygen consumption (ie, VO2) by tissues. Lactate levels, acid-base status, and other markers also may provide useful indicators of physiologic status. Age, medications, and comorbid factors all may affect a patient's response to hemorrhagic shock.

Failure of compensatory mechanisms in hemorrhagic shock can lead to death. Without intervention, a classic trimodal distribution of deaths is seen in severe hemorrhagic shock. An initial peak of mortality occurs within minutes of hemorrhage due to immediate exsanguination. Another peak occurs after 1 to several hours due to progressive decompensation. A third peak occurs days to weeks later due to sepsis and organ failure.



Accidental injuries remain the leading cause of death in individuals aged 1-44 years. [3] Hemorrhagic shock is a leading cause of death among trauma patients. [4]


Patient Education

For patient education resources, see the Shock Center, as well as Shock.