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Hypovolemic Shock - 1 Nursing CE
Hypovolemic Shock - 1 Nursing CE
Author: Kristi Hudson RN MSN CCRN

Course Objectives
  • Upon completion of this course the student will be able to:
  • Define Hypovolemic Shock
  • Describe the difference between compensated, uncompensated and irreversible Hypovolemic Shock
  • Discuss the classes of hemorrhage
  • List two fluid based treatment options
  • Explain the role that vasopressors play in treatment of Hypovolemic Shock
Hypovolemic Shock
Hypovolemic shock refers to a medical or surgical condition in which rapid fluid loss results in multiple organ failure due to inadequate perfusion. Most often, hypovolemic shock is secondary to rapid blood loss (hemorrhagic shock). It is defined as approximately 1 Liter or 1/5 loss of circulating volume). The following is the sequence of events that under perfused tissue goes through:
  • Profound ischemia for unperfused tissue causes a switch to anaerobic metabolism
  • Which leads to Lactic Acid waste
  • This causes decreased ATP to be available for cell work
  • The cell membrane cannot function and it dies
  • This causes release of intracellular enzymes and inflammatory mediators
  • This inflammatory process wrecks havoc on the Lungs, Kidneys, Digestive Tract, Capillary Lining and Coagulation. Whew!

There are 3 Stages in Hypovolemic Shock: Compensated, Uncompensated and Irreversible:

Compensated – The body is still able to compensate for the decrease in perfusion. Cardiac Output and systolic blood pressure are maintained.

Uncompensated – The body’s compensation mechanisms are starting to fail. Blood pressure begins to decrease and patient condition worsens.

Irreversible – Cell and tissue ischemia leads to organ death due to lack of perfusion. This process may begin on day one and continue to occur for up to three weeks after the initial insult. Under such circumstances, the patient should be re-evaluated to determine whether some reversible causes of the persistent shock may have been overlooked.

Treatable Causes of Hypovolemic Shock:
  • Laceration of a vein or artery
  • Open wounds
  • Fractured pelvis (may be associated with 1500cc blood loss)
  • Fractured femur (may be associated with 500-1000cc blood loss)
  • Upper/Lower GI Bleed
  • Pnuemo/Hemothorax
Saline or Combined Saline/Water Loss
  • Gastrointestinal losses (vomiting, diarrhea)
  • High Fever
  • Excessive sweating
  • Diuretics
Third Spacing (Fluid shifts):
  • Soft tissue trauma
  • Sepsis
  • Peritonitis (intestinal obstruction)
  • Ascites
  • Burn injuries
Other causes of hypovolemic shock include:
  • Inadequate fluid administration (even if the patient clinically appears to be overloaded with fluid)
  • Inadequate ventilation or oxygenation
  • Adrenal insufficiency
  • Hypothermia
  • Hypocalcemia
Classes of Hemorrhage

Classes of hemorrhage have been defined, based on the percentage of blood volume loss. However, the distinction between these classes in the hypovolemic patient often is less apparent. Treatment should be aggressive and directed more by response to therapy than by initial classification.

Class I hemorrhage (loss of 0-15%)
  • In the absence of complications, only minimal tachycardia is seen.
  • Usually, no changes in BP, pulse pressure, or respiratory rate occur.
  • A delay in capillary refill of longer than 3 seconds corresponds to a volume loss of approximately 10%.
Class II hemorrhage (loss of 15-30%)
  • Clinical symptoms include tachycardia (rate >100 beats per minute), tachypnea, decrease in pulse pressure, cool clammy skin, delayed capillary refill, and slight anxiety.
  • The decrease in pulse pressure is a result of increased catecholamine levels, which causes increase in peripheral vascular resistance and a subsequent increase in the diastolic BP.
Class III hemorrhage (loss of 30-40%)
  • By this point, patients usually have marked tachypnea and tachycardia, decreased systolic BP, oliguria, and significant changes in mental status, such as confusion or agitation.
  • In patients without other injuries or fluid losses, 30-40% is the smallest amount of blood loss that consistently causes a decrease in systolic BP.
  • Most of these patients require blood transfusions, but the decision to administer blood should be based on the initial response to fluids.
Class IV hemorrhage (loss of >40%)
  • Symptoms include the following: marked tachycardia decreased systolic BP, narrowed pulse pressure (or immeasurable diastolic pressure), and markedly decreased (or no) urinary output, depressed mental status (or loss of consciousness), and cold and pale skin.
  • This amount of hemorrhage is immediately life threatening.
Note: In the patient with trauma, hemorrhage usually is the presumed cause of shock.
The initial resuscitative effort is to attempt to correct the absolute and relative hypovolemia by refilling the vascular tree. There is good evidence that early goal directed aggressive volume resuscitation improves outcomes in hypovolemic shock. Because resuscitation efforts are not always black and white, treatment must be individualized for patient condition and need. The following are broad guidelines for the treatment of hypovolemic shock:
  • Targeting O2 delivery to vital organs rather then a specific B/P or heart rate
  • This usually requires MAP of 60-70 mmHg
  • Monitor mental status, skin color, blood gases, hemoglobin, urine output, electrolytes and Lactic Acid levels
  • PA catheter is not necessarily a mainstay but can offer a more detailed view of patient condition. If PA catheter not available, try using CVP monitoring for baseline.
  • PiCCO catheter, this is a catheter that is placed in the femoral artery that provides information about hemodynamic stability by measuring heart and lung volumes rather then pressure.
Fluid Replacement Choices
Conventional “crystal”loids (see through) include both balanced salt solutions (BSS) and hypotonic salt solutions. Balanced salt solutions include such fluids as 0.9% NaCl (normal saline), and Ringer's Lactate solutions. These solutions are characterized by having an electrolyte composition or calculated osmolality approximating that of plasma (isotonic). Balanced salt solutions distribute approximately ¾ or their volume to the extravascular space with ¼ of the volume remaining in the intravascular space.

Colloid solutions are solutions of proteins, starches, dextrans, and gelatins containing molecules sufficiently large enough so that they do not normally cross capillary membranes. Under normal conditions most of the administered volume remains in the intravascular space (unless tissue is damaged and then it can cross membranes). Once colloids have leaked into the interstitium, they must be removed by the lymphatic system or they will exert a reverse pressure gradient, drawing water from the vascular space. The removal of colloids from the interstitium is typically much slower than that of crystalloids.

Blood Component Therapy
  • Packed Red Blood Cells - Red cell transfusions initially may be achieved with uncross-matched type O red cells. If a patient’s blood type has been determined, ABO and Rh specific red cells can be used. Every effort should be made to establish the blood type of a patient prior to transfusion to preserve type O red cell availability and accurately determine the patient’s blood type.
  • Platelets - Platelet transfusion therapy after massive transfusion is an accepted intervention in the presence of micro-vascular bleeding prior to documentation of thrombocytopenia. The platelet transfusion dose recommended is 1 unit per 10 kg body weight for platelet counts <50,000 or when platelet dysfunction is suspected.
  • Plasma – Plasma (FFP) transfusion therapy should be instituted after laboratory confirmation of coagulation factor deficiencies. The recommended dose is 10-15 mL/kg body weight for PT/PTT>1.5 normal range.
  • Cryoprecipitate - Cryoprecipitate therapy should be instituted for the correction of laboratory evidence of hypo-fibrinogenemia (fibrinogen <100 mg/dl). Dosing will depend on the degree of hypo-fibrinogenemia and the patient’s weight. For an average size adult, 6-unit pool for fibrinogen levels between 50-100 mg/dl and 12-unit pool for fibrinogen levels <50 mg/dl.
Re-establishing Circulation
In addition to fluid resuscitative measures, the use of vasopressors may be required to assist with the restoration of circulation. Vasopressors are agents that cause constriction of blood vessels, leading to an increase in blood pressure. Some vasopressors are also positive inotropes (capable of increasing contractility of the heart) and/or positive chronotropes (capable of increasing heart rate). The hemodynamic effects of most vasopressors occurs secondary to their interactions with receptors in the heart and vascular system. The following vasopressors should be considered to improve circulatory efforts in hypovolemic shock:

Norepinephrine is one of the principal neurotransmitters chemical substances involved in the transmission of nerve impulses in the sympathetic nervous system. It is released from nerve cells, and is indicated for the treatment of acute hypotension resulting from conditions such as spinal anesthesia, myocardial infarction, septicemia, blood transfusions, and drug reactions. This agent is also used adjunctively in the treatment of cardiac arrest and profound hypotension. Norepinephrine is a potent alpha adrenoceptor agonist and is therefore a strong vasoconstrictor, increasing systolic and diastolic blood pressures. In addition, Norepinephrine stimulates beta 1 cells so it increases both heart rate and contractility.

Epinephrine is another neurotransmitter in the sympathetic nervous system, but it is not released from nerve cells; rather, epinephrine is a hormone secreted by the adrenal medulla. Epinephrine is used intravenously during advanced cardiac life support and may also be used to treat other conditions, including anaphylactic shock and acute, severe asthma unresponsive to normal treatment. Because Epinephrine is a potent alpha and beta adrenoceptor agonist, it is also a powerful vasoconstrictor with both positive inotropic, and chronotropic effects. Epinephrine causes increased heart rate, increased force of contraction, an increase in cardiac output, and increased systolic blood pressure. The vasoconstrictive effects of epinephrine become more apparent as the dose is increased.

Dopamine, a precursor of norepinephrine and epinephrine, is also a neurotransmitter. Dopamine is found in both the central and peripheral nervous systems and is released from nerve cells. Dopamine is indicated in the treatment of shock due to myocardial infarction, trauma, septicemia, open-heart surgery, renal failure, and chronic cardiac decompensation. The effects of Dopamine are complex and dose dependent. Dopamine directly stimulates dopaminergic receptors, alpha and beta adrenoceptors, and it indirectly causes the release of endogenous norepinephrine. At low doses (l to 5mcg/kg/minute), dopamine directly stimulates dopaminergic receptors on arteries in the kidneys, abdomen, heart, and brain and causes vasodilatation. At these doses, urine output may increase, but blood pressure and heart rate are usually not affected. As the dose is increased (5 to 10 mcg/kg/min), dopamine stimulates beta 1 adrenoceptors, resulting in positive inotropic and chronotropic effects, which increases myocardial contractility, and heart rate, which results in, enhanced cardiac output. At higher doses (greater than 10 mcg/kg/min), dopamine exerts effects primarily alpha-receptors, and extensive vasoconstriction causes blood pressure to increase.

Phenylephrine (Neosynephrine)
Phenylephrine is chemically related to epinephrine and used to treat hypotension resulting from shock, shock like states, anesthesia, or hypersensitivity reactions to drugs.

Phenylephrine is a powerful vasoconstrictor that strongly stimulates alpha adrenoceptors but has little effect on the beta adrenoceptors of the heart. Its vasoconstrictive properties are similar to those of norepinephrine. Phenylephrine increases systolic and diastolic blood pressures in a dose dependent manner, but because it has minimal effects on beta-receptors, heart rate and contractility are generally not affected.

Vasopressin is a unique vasopressor for two reasons. First, its principal use is for a condition unrelated to its vasopressor properties. Vasopressin is an antidiuretic hormone indicated to inhibit diuresis in patients with diabetes insipidus. However, at higher doses, vasopressin causes vasoconstriction. Because there is a fair amount of evidence to support its effectiveness as a vasopressor, vasopressin is now considered as an alternative to epinephrine for the treatment of adult shock-refractory ventricular fibrillation during advanced cardiac life support. Vasopressin is a distinctive vasopressor also because its vasoconstrictive effects do not result from its interaction with adrenoceptors; rather, vasoconstriction arises from vasopressin's actions on vasopressin receptors. Vasopressin receptors are classified as V-1 and V-2 receptors. V-1 receptors are located on arterial smooth muscle, and V-2 receptors are found in renal tubules. It is Vasopressin's interaction with V-1 receptors that is responsible for its potent vasopressor effects.


Disorders of fluid and electrolyte balance: The basics. (June 2003). Retrieved on December 25, 2003 at:
Heitz, U., & Horne, M., M. (2005). Fluid and electrolytes and acid base balance. (5tth  ed.). Elsevier/Mosby. Missouri.
International Trauma Anesthesia and Critical Care Society (Spring 2003). Fluid management in trauma. Retrieved on December 24, 2003 at:
Kee, V., R., (August 2003). Hemodynamic pharmacology of intravenous Vasopressors. Retrieved on December 27, 2003 at:
Kolecki, P., MD., (204). Hypovolemic Shock. Retrieved on January 15, 2005 at:
Plaza, I., L., (April 1998). Transfusion medicine update: Massive blood transfusion. Retrieved on December 25, 2003 at: 

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