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Cardiogenic shock

Cardiogenic shock is a condition in which your heart suddenly can't pump enough blood to meet your body's needs. The condition is most often caused by a severe heart attack.

Cardiogenic shock is rare, but it's often fatal if not treated immediately. If treated immediately, about half the people who develop the condition survive.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Cardiogenic shock signs and symptoms include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Sudden, rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Weak pulse
  • Sweating
  • Pale skin
  • Cold hands or feet
  • Urinating less than normal or not at all

Symptoms of a heart attack

Because cardiogenic shock usually occurs in people who are having a severe heart attack, it's important to know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack. These include:

  • Pressure, fullness or a squeezing pain in the center of your chest that lasts for more than a few minutes
  • Pain extending beyond your chest to your shoulder, arm, back, or even to your teeth and jaw
  • Increasing episodes of chest pain
  • Prolonged pain in the upper abdomen
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting

If you seek medical attention quickly when having these signs or symptoms, you can decrease your risk of developing cardiogenic shock.

When to see a doctor

Getting heart attack treatment quickly improves your chance of survival and minimizes damage to your heart. If you're having symptoms of a heart attack, call emergency medical services for help. If you don't have access to emergency medical services, have someone drive you to the nearest hospital. Don't drive yourself.

In most cases, a lack of oxygen to your heart, usually from a heart attack, damages its main pumping chamber, the left ventricle. Without oxygen-rich blood circulating to that area of your heart, the heart muscle can weaken and progress into cardiogenic shock.

Rarely, damage to your heart's right ventricle, which sends blood to your lungs to receive oxygen, leads to cardiogenic shock. Damage to the right ventricle hinders your heart's ability to pump blood to your lungs, depriving your body of adequate oxygen.

Other possible causes of cardiogenic shock include inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis), infection of the heart valves (endocarditis), weakened heart from any cause, drug overdoses or poisoning with substances that can affect your heart's pumping ability.

If you have a heart attack, your risk of developing cardiogenic shock increases if you:

  • Are older
  • Have a history of heart failure or heart attack
  • Have blockages (coronary artery disease) in several of your heart's main arteries
  • Have diabetes or high blood pressure

If not treated immediately, cardiogenic shock can be fatal. Another serious complication of cardiogenic shock is damage to your liver, kidneys or other organs from lack of oxygen.

Kidney or liver damage can worsen cardiogenic shock because the kidneys release chemicals that keep your muscles functioning, and the liver releases proteins that help your blood clot. Organ damage can be permanent.

The best way to prevent cardiogenic shock is to prevent a heart attack, using the same lifestyle changes you can use to treat heart disease, including:

  • Control high blood pressure (hypertension). Exercising, managing stress, maintaining a healthy weight, and limiting salt and alcohol help keep hypertension in check. Also, your doctor may prescribe medications to treat hypertension.
  • Don't smoke. Several years after quitting smoking, your risk of stroke is the same as that of a nonsmoker.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight contributes to other risk factors for heart attack and cardiogenic shock, such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Losing just 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) may lower your blood pressure and improve your cholesterol levels.
  • Lower the cholesterol and saturated fat in your diet. Eating less cholesterol and fat, especially saturated fat, may reduce your risk of heart disease. If you can't control your cholesterol through dietary changes alone, your doctor may prescribe a cholesterol-lowering medication.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercise can lower your blood pressure, increase your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and improve the overall health of your blood vessels and heart. It also helps you control your weight, control diabetes and reduce stress. Gradually work up to 30 minutes of activity — such as walking, jogging, swimming or bicycling — on most, if not all, days of the week.

If you have a heart attack, quick action can help prevent cardiogenic shock. Seek emergency medical help immediately if you think you're having a heart attack.

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