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What is shock in children?

Shock by definition is a clinical syndrome which results in organ failure due to inadequate supply of oxygen and nutrients to the tissues. There are various types of shock, however the most frequent type of shock in children is hypovolemic (low volume), which typically is due to gastroenteritis (stomach virus).

To demonstrate how the body uses oxygen normally, imagine a train carrying a full supply of oxygen throughout the body at a certain speed- leaving the heart and stopping at each area of the body so it can consume a certain amount of oxygen needed to function.

In shock, if there is low blood pressure the train cannot move at the normal speed, or in the case of infection, the body uses up the oxygen at a faster rate. 

In children, shock can happen very quickly. Children do not have the amount of blood volume adults do. This is why when children are ill, the practitioner will ask you about number of wet diapers or times your child has urinated during the day. It is also why we stress drinking fluids during times of illness. 

Children die from shock due to delay in recognition that it is occurring and therefore delay of treatment (including oxygen, fluids, and antibiotics). To prevent this, parents and caregivers should consider the signs of shock a medical emergency and take their child directly to an emergency room for examination. 

Signs of shock may include:

  • cool or pale extremities
  • high fever
  • lack of wet diapers or urine output
  • rapid heart rate
  • shortness of breath
  • rash on skin
  • lethargy or confusion

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.