Shock is a severe medical situation that could kill


When speaking of shock in a the context of first aid, what is normally meant is hypovolemic shock. That is to say, severe loss of volume of blood to the extent that the circulatory system fails, thus depriving vital internal organs (heart, brain, lungs etc) of oxygen. Blood is the normal fluid lost, but it can also be brought about by diarrhoea, vomiting and severe burns. Shock can kill.


Shock does not happen without reason, and there will have been an event that you may have witnessed, such as a fall or severe cut. Once any obvious injuries have been treated, check for any of the following symptoms of shock. 

  • pale face (ashen colour)
  • cold & clammy skin
  • rapid & shallow breathing
  • weak pulse, sometimes rapid too
  • yawning, sighing or gasping for air
  • feeling sick
  • restlessness or aggression

Symptoms of shock are similar to those of hypothermia, as the body is essentially performing the same process of shutting down non-essential bodily functions.


You cannot treat shock in the same way that you could bandage a wound. Shock is a medical emergency and requires urgent evacuation of the casualty. You must call for help. The following should be done whilst waiting for help to arrive.

  • remove the casualty from any harsh external environment, i.e. wind and rain. Get them into a storm shelter if you have one, and a survival bag or blizzard bag/blanket. You need to keep them warm.
  • first treat any external cause of shock. Internal bleeding could be occurring, which will not be obvious, but can often  cause shock
  • loosen any tight clothing and wrap up the casualty in extra layers of warm clothing. If you have an emergency jacket, now would be the time to use it
  • lie down the casualty and raise their legs, making sure that their body is insulated from the ground to prevent loss of body heat through conduction. Raising legs encourages blood-flow towards the vital organs.
  • comfort and reassure
  • do not give the casualty anything to eat or drink