two cars after a car accident

A car accident that causes serious injury is a traumatic experience. After certain physical injuries, a person in a crash may go into shock. Physical, traumatic shock is a life-threatening medical condition requiring emergency treatment.

car accident victim in shock may have a range of symptoms including clammy skin, a pale or ashen complexion, a rapid pulse, enlarged pupils, dizziness and nausea. The person experiencing shock needs to be transported to a hospital for treatment.

Knowing the symptoms of shock after a car accident could save a life, including your own.

What Causes Traumatic Shock?

Traumatic shock occurs when a person’s internal organs do not get adequate blood and oxygen. Without oxygen, organs begin to shut down. If shock is not treated, the individual may suffer permanent organ damage or even death.

A person may go into shock as a result of traumatic injuries in a crash or blood loss. The impact of certain physical injuries, such as crushing injuries that damage portions of the circulatory system, may cause shock. But physical traumatic shock is usually the result of excessive blood loss or severe burns. Heatstroke, an allergic reaction, severe infection and poisoning also may cause a person to go into shock.

If you or your loved one were diagnosed as having gone into shock after a car accident, it was most likely referred to as hypovolemic shock.

Hypovolemic shock is the term for blood and fluid loss that causes a drop in blood pressure severe enough to make it impossible for the heart to pump a sufficient amount of blood to your body. Hypovolemic shock is the most common type of shock. It may be caused by bleeding from an open wound, internal bleeding, or severe burns, which deplete bodily fluids. Serious dehydration also can cause this type of shock.

Other types of shock include:

  • Neurogenic shock, which is caused by injury to the spinal cord. It can cause loss of function of the sympathetic nervous system, which maintains bodily functions such as heart beat and opening airways to improve breathing. Damage to the sympathetic nervous system can lead to a drop in blood pressure and lack of oxygen distribution to the body.
  • Cardiogenic shock, which occurs when damage to the heart prevents it from supplying blood to the body. It is most often caused by a severe heart attack, but not everyone who has a heart attack suffers cardiogenic shock.
  • Obstructive shock, which means the flow of blood has been blocked. A stroke (caused by a blood clot in the brain) or pulmonary embolism (blot clot in a lung) are forms of obstructive shock. Conditions that cause a buildup of air or fluid in the chest cavity can lead to obstructive shock, as well.

Symptoms and Treatment of Physical Shock

Traumatic shock has many symptoms. A person who has gone into shock may exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Rapid, weak, or absent pulse
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Lightheadedness
  • Cool, clammy skin
  • Dilated pupils
  • Lackluster eyes
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Decrease in urine
  • Thirst and dry mouth
  • Low blood sugar
  • Loss of consciousness.

First responders will check a shock victim’s heartbeat, pulse and blood pressure. To get blood circulating through the individual’s body as quickly as possible, emergency responders may administer fluids and blood products intravenously, as well as medication and other supportive care.

Once the patient is stabilized, doctors can treat the injury that led to the state of shock.

If you see an injured person who may be going into shock, call 911 or your local emergency number. Then, the Mayo Clinic says to take the following steps:

  • Lay the person down and elevate their legs and feet slightly, unless this could cause pain or further injury
  • Begin CPR if the person shows no signs of life, such as breathing, coughing, moaning or moving
  • Keep the person still and don’t move him or her unless necessary
  • Loosen tight clothing and, if needed, cover the person with a blanket to prevent chills
  • Don’t let the person eat or drink anything
  • If you suspect that the person is having an allergic reaction, and you have access to an epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen), use it according to its instructions.
  • If the person is bleeding badly, use a towel or sheet to hold pressure over the bleeding area
  • If the person vomits or begins bleeding from the mouth, turn him or her onto a side to prevent choking, unless you suspect a spinal injury. Do not move a spinal injury victim.

Emotional / Psychological Shock and Post-traumatic Stress

You may witness someone else’s injury or death in a car crash and go into psychological shock, which is also potentially a life-altering condition.

The National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery (NCMHR) refers to emotional trauma (or post-traumatic stress) as the emotional shock after a life-threatening, violent event. This psychological trauma occurs when our bodies perceive a life-threatening danger we cannot escape. The effects may be immediate or take time to surface and may remain with us for the rest of our lives.

The University of South Carolina School of Medicine says post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is defined as a “complex anxiety disorder that may occur when individuals experience or witness an event perceived as a threat and in which they experience fear, terror, or helplessness.” PTSD is sometimes called “a normal reaction to abnormal events.”

Psychological shock after a car accident may be a reaction to your own injury or injury to a loved one, particularly a child or spouse who you were unable to protect. Even a bystander who witnessed a particularly catastrophic car accident may be traumatized by what he or she saw.

The NCMHR says a person may have been emotionally traumatized if they exhibit:

  • Repetitive and intrusive worrying thoughts or memories related to the event
  • Chronic fear
  • Staring off into space
  • Frozen expression or numbness
  • Feelings of emptiness
  • Extreme defensiveness and rigid thinking
  • Irritability
  • Explosive overreactions
  • Sexual preoccupation
  • Continuing discomfort and pain after physical healing
  • Returning to traumatizing situations.

If you are dealing with someone who has just been traumatized, first see to any bodily injury or physical medical needs (e.g., call 911, dress a wound, etc.). Then:

  • Help them to a safe place
  • Acknowledge that something terrible has happened
  • Help them to stay dry, warm, and still
  • Keep in mind that trembling or being emotional is part of healing, and better than becoming numb to what has happened
  • If the person wants to talk, listen without interrupting or changing the subject

Contact a South Carolina Car Accident Lawyer

Shock is a common medical condition that many crash victims experience. After getting the appropriate emergency assistance and medical care needed for shock after a car accident in South Carolina, contact a car accident attorney to discuss your legal options if someone else caused your injuries. You may be entitled to claim compensation for your medical expenses and other losses, including your pain and suffering. Our compassionate personal injury attorneys understand you have been through a difficult ordeal and we want to help.

Joye Law Firm has offices in Myrtle BeachColumbiaNorth Charleston and Clinton, and we serve clients throughout South Carolina.

About the Author

Since 1968, the South Carolina personal injury and workers’ compensation attorneys of Joye Law Firm have been committed to securing compensation for accident and injury victims. Our compassionate and dedicated lawyers have nearly 250 years of combined litigation experience, and many of them have been recognized as South Carolina Super Lawyers. For many years, our South Carolina personal injury law firm has been listed with an AV rating in the prestigious Martindale-Hubbell legal directory.

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