Shock and Hypotension in the Newborn Clinical Presentation

Updated: Nov 27, 2021
  • Author: Samir Gupta, MD, DM, FRCPCH, FRCPI; Chief Editor: Muhammad Aslam, MD  more...
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History and Physical Examination


Newborns may present with signs of infections such as lethargy, poor feeding, and—rarely—with fever. A gistory of acute blood loss or fluid loss may be present in hypovolemic shock.

Physical examination

Clinical manifestations of hypotension include prolonged capillary refill time, tachycardia, mottling of skin, cool extremities, and decreased urine output. Carefully observe heart sounds, peripheral pulses, and breath sounds. If hypotension is left untreated, neurologic signs with altered sensorium and signs of other organ damage may ensue.

The physical examination should accurately assess blood pressure, existence of any heart murmurs, and presence of the femoral pulses. Measurement of neonatal blood pressure can be completed directly through invasive techniques or indirectly through noninvasive techniques. Invasive methods include direct manometry using an arterial catheter or the use of an in-line pressure transducer and continuous monitor. Noninvasive methods include manual oscillometric techniques and automated Doppler techniques.

A good correlation is observed between the systolic blood pressure measured by Doppler, and pressure as assessed by direct manometry using an intra-arterial catheter.

Hypovolemic shock

Clinical signs of hypovolemic shock depend on the degree of intravascular volume depletion, which is estimated to be 25% in compensated shock, 25-40% in uncompensated shock, and more than 40% in irreversible shock.

Cardiogenic shock

Global myocardial ischemia reduces contractility and causes papillary muscle dysfunction with secondary tricuspid valvular insufficiency. Clinical findings suggestive of cardiogenic shock include peripheral edema, hepatomegaly, cardiomegaly, and a heart murmur suggestive of tricuspid regurgitation.

Septic shock

The most common form of maldistributive shock in the newborn is septic shock; this is a source of considerable mortality and morbidity. In sepsis, cardiac output may be normal or even elevated, but it may still be too small to deliver sufficient oxygen to the tissues because of the abnormal distribution of blood in the microcirculation, leading to decreased tissue perfusion. [9] In septic shock, cardiac function may be depressed (the left ventricle is usually affected more than the right ventricle).

The early, compensated phase of septic shock is characterized by an increased cardiac output, decreased systemic vascular resistance, warm extremities, and a widened pulse pressure. If effective therapy is not provided, cardiovascular performance deteriorates and cardiac output falls, and peripheral vasoconstriction leads to cold shock. Even with normal or increased cardiac output, shock develops. The normal relationship between cardiac output and systemic vascular resistance breaks down, and hypotension may persist as a result of decreased vascular resistance.

Newborns, who have little cardiac reserve, often present with hypotension and a picture of cardiovascular collapse. These critically ill infants represent a diagnostic and therapeutic challenge, and sepsis must be presumed and treated as quickly as possible.

As previously stated, shock is a progressive disorder and can generally be divided into three phases: compensated, uncompensated, and irreversible. Each phase has characteristic clinicopathologic manifestations and outcomes; however, in the neonatal setting, distinguishing them may be impossible. It is therefore important to initiate aggressive treatment in all cases where shock is suspected.