What is neurogenic shock?
Neurogenic shock is a life-threatening condition caused by irregular blood circulation in the body. Trauma or injury to the spine can cause this disruption. Neurogenic shock is extremely dangerous because it can cause your blood pressure to drop drastically and suddenly, and can leave irreversible damage to your body tissues. If left untreated, neurogenic shock can be fatal.
Neurogenic shock symptoms
One of the main symptoms of neurogenic shock is low blood pressure from irregular blood circulation. However, this condition can cause a number of other symptoms:
In more severe cases of neurogenic shock, you may experience:
- difficulty breathing
- chest pain
- weakness from irregular blood circulation
- bradycardia, or a slower heart rhythm
- faint pulse
- cyanosis, or discolored lips and fingers
- hypothermia, or decreased body temperature
If left untreated, neurogenic shock can cause irreversible tissue damage and death. If you begin experiencing any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.
Neurogenic shock causes
Neurogenic shock is often a result of injury or trauma to the spinal cord. As a result, your body loses function and stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. Your sympathetic nervous system maintains bodily functions during physical activity. That includes strengthening your heart beat, raising your blood pressure, and opening your airways to improve breathing.
If your sympathetic nervous system doesn’t function well, your blood pressure could drop and can affect your brain, tissues, and spinal cord.
Other causes of neurogenic shock include:
- car accidents that cause central nervous system damage or spinal cord injury
- sport injuries causing trauma to the spine
- gunshot wounds to the spine
- medications that affect the autonomic nervous system, which regulates breathing and other automatic bodily functions
- improper administration of anesthesia to the spinal cord
Diagnosing neurogenic shock
In order to diagnose this condition, doctors will first perform a physical examination for additional symptoms and monitor your blood pressure. There are also a number of tests doctors use to show the severity of the injury that caused neurogenic shock.
A CT scan uses X-ray images to show pictures of the body. If you have a spinal injury, CT scans can help to diagnose how severe the injury is. It can also help doctors to detect any internal bleeding or additional damage.
An MRI scan is an imaging test used to show internal structures of your body, such as your spine. It can help to detect any irregularities with your spinal column. Combined with an evaluation of your symptoms, your doctor can use an MRI scan to diagnose the source of your back pain and neurogenic shock.
Doctors will also use a urinary catheter to measure your urine volume. With some spinal injuries, you may be unable to urinate on your own or you may suffer from incontinence. Through urine tests, doctors can also help to detect any signs of infection.
Treating neurogenic shock
Neurogenic shock can cause irreversible damage if not treated quickly. Treatment options are meant to stabilize you and prevent any additional injury or damage.
First, your doctor will immobilize you to prevent further damage. Then they will give you fluids intravenously to regulate your blood pressure. If your blood pressure is too low, you may be given vasopressors, or medication that helps to tighten your blood vessels and raise pressure. Some of the most common vasopressors include:
In addition, if you have a slower heart rhythm, your doctor may prescribe you atropine. This medication will help to keep your heartbeat normal.
Neurogenic shock can be fatal. If you’ve recently injured your spine and are feeling nauseous or dizzy and have chest pain, you should call 911 and visit an emergency room immediately.