Paediatric Shock: A Life-Threatening Condition

As a healthcare provider that works in primary or paediatric healthcare settings, recognising the early signs of paediatric shock in young children is essential when assessing children presenting with health issues.

Paediatric shock is a life-threatening condition when the body’s organs and tissues do not receive enough oxygen and nutrients. This can happen for various reasons, such as blood loss, infection, or heart failure. 

Recognising Symptoms of Shock in Children

The symptoms of shock in children can vary depending on the underlying cause. However, some common symptoms include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Fast heart rate
  • Cool, clammy skin
  • Pale or mottled skin
  • Low blood pressure
  • Decreased urine output.
  • Lethargy or unresponsiveness

You can learn more about paediatric shock in our main article: How to Recognize Signs of Paediatric Shock, and about our recommended training courses for healthcare providers responsible for assessing paediatric patients in a primary care setting offered by PDUK.

Types of Shock in Children

There are four main types of shock in children:

1: Hypovolemic shock occurs when the child loses a large amount of blood or fluids. 

This can happen due to:

  • Bleeding from a cut or wound
  • Internal bleeding, such as from a ruptured spleen or liver
  • Severe vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Burns
  • Dehydration

2: Distributive shock occurs when the blood vessels in the body dilate, which causes blood to pool in the extremities and away from the vital organs.

Several different conditions can cause distributive shock, including:

  • Anaphylaxis
  • Sepsis
  • Neurogenic shock
  • Severe burns
  • Drugs

3: Cardiogenic shock occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs.

This can happen due to several different conditions, including:

  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Arrhythmia
  • Heart valve disease
  • Toxin exposure
  • Severe dehydration

4: Obstructive shock occurs when something blocks blood flow to the heart or lungs.

This can happen due to several different conditions, including:

  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Tension pneumothorax
  • Cardiac tamponade
  • Aortic dissection 
  • Massive pulmonary oedema

As a healthcare provider, it is essential to be able to reassure parents of children presenting with paediatric shock. Being patient and understanding with parents who are worried about their child is vital. They may be feeling scared, angry, or confused. It is essential to let them express their feelings and support them.