Cardiogenic Shock: What Heart Attack Patients Should Know

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During a heart attack, the lack of oxygen to your heart can cause permanent damage to your heart muscle. And if the damage is severe enough, complications can occur. One potentially dangerous complication is known as cardiogenic shock. Cardiogenic shock can be fatal if not recognized and treated quickly, so if you’ve had a heart attack, it’s a good idea to be familiar with this condition. 

What is cardiogenic shock?

Just like your heart needs oxygen to function, so do the other vital organs of your body, like your brain, kidneys, and liver. The pumping action of your heart is what delivers oxygen-rich blood to these organs. But if your heart is suddenly unable to pump enough blood throughout your body, your other organs don’t receive the oxygen they require to function properly. This is the definition of cardiogenic shock, and it’s considered a medical emergency.

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Heart attack is the most common cause of cardiogenic shock, but other conditions that weaken the heart may also lead to it.  This includes things like infections within the valves of the heart, abnormal heart rhythms, or drug overdoses.

Cardiogenic shock is relatively rare, but in addition to having a heart attack, certain factors can place you at higher risk:

  • Older age

  • Previous heart problems

  • Female sex

  • Other medical conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure

What are the symptoms of cardiogenic shock?

Prompt treatment is the key to preventing serious organ damage or death resulting from cardiogenic shock. In many cases, patients will still be in the hospital after their heart attack when they go into shock. But if you develop some of the following symptoms once you are back at home, call 9-1-1 right away:

How is cardiogenic shock treated?

Cardiogenic shock treatment is aimed at restoring blood flow and oxygen to the organs of your body, hopefully avoiding or limiting permanent damage. Oxygen therapy is often used to boost the supply of oxygen being delivered throughout your body. Medications to treat blood clots or strengthen the contractions of the heart can help improve circulation. Medical devices like an intra-aortic balloon pump or a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) can be placed into the heart to assist the pumping action and increase blood flow.

It may be necessary to also address what caused the heart attack and/or cardiogenic shock in the first place. For example, if an artery to your heart is blocked, you may need a stent placed to help open it up or have bypass surgery to allow blood to travel around the blockage and reach your heart. 

Can cardiogenic shock be prevented?

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, many people wait longer than two hours to get treatment for a heart attack. But as we know with your heart, “time is muscle.” The quicker you initiate treatment, the less chance you have of developing complications like cardiogenic shock. Be sure to seek emergency medical help if you develop signs of a heart attack, such as:

And just as you should already be doing as part of your heart attack recovery, improving your heart health can also lower your risk of cardiogenic shock. Stop smoking, exercise regularly, and eat a healthy diet. Actively manage other medical conditions by keeping your doctor’s appointments and taking medications, like those for high blood pressure or cholesterol, as prescribed. Ask your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about your risk or what you can do to live a healthy lifestyle.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2018 Dec 31
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