What Is Hypovolemia and What Causes It?
This article will provide an overview of hypovolemia, including what causes it, its symptoms, and how doctors treat it.
Hypovolemia, or volume depletion, is a critical decrease in blood volume in your body. It can happen due to blood loss or loss of body fluids, such as water.
Extensive burns, excessive perspiration, and the use of diuretics all cause body fluid loss. Inadequate fluid intake can also contribute to dehydration and hypovolemia.
Hypovolemia describes a significant loss of fluid from the body.
If you develop hypovolemia, your body first tries to compensate for the volume loss by increasing your heart rate and the strength of heart contractions. It also constricts the peripheral blood vessels, which are vessels outside of the chest or abdomen. Constricting these blood vessels helps preserve blood flow to vital organs, like the brain, heart, and kidneys.
However, when blood volume drops to a level where blood cannot reach the body’s organs, they can no longer function properly. Tissue cannot receive oxygen and nutrients, and waste is not carried away. At this stage, the condition becomes hypovolemic shock.
Conditions that cause blood or body fluid loss can cause hypovolemia, as can inadequate fluid intake and dehydration.
There are several common causes of volume depletion, including:
- blood loss from external injury or internal bleeding
- persistent or severe diarrhea and vomiting
- extensive burns
- excessive sweating
- taking diuretics
- being on dialysis
- adrenal disorders such as Addison’s disease
Serious or life threatening causes of hypovolemia
Many conditions that cause hypovolemia are serious or life threatening and require emergency treatment. These include:
- ectopic pregnancy, a life threatening pregnancy growing outside the uterus
- internal bleeding, often from the gastrointestinal tract
- large burns
- ruptured aortic aneurysm or other vascular abnormalities
- serious injury or trauma
Hypovolemic shock is a medical emergency requiring immediate intervention.
A subset of hypovolemic shock is hemorrhagic shock, which is the loss of fluid specifically due to blood loss.
The earliest stage refers to a loss of less than 15% or 750 milliliters (ml) of blood volume. Symptoms of this stage are:
- pulse rate of less than 100 beats per minute
- respiratory rate between 14–20 breaths per minute
- blood pressure at normal limits
- some slight anxiety, but no other change to mental status
Stage 2 occurs with a loss of 15–30% of blood volume, between 750–1,500 ml. Symptoms of this stage are:
- pulse rate over 100 beats per minute
- respirations between 20–30 breaths per minute
- blood pressure lower than normal
- mild anxiety
This stage refers to 30–40% of blood loss, between 1,500–2,000 ml. Symptoms of this stage are:
- pulse rate over 120 beats per minute
- respirations between 30–40 breaths per minute
- low blood pressure
- confusion or lethargy
This most severe stage means you have lost more than 40% of your blood volume, over 2,000 ml. Symptoms of this stage are:
- pulse rate over 140 beats per minute
- respirations over 35 breaths per minute
- low blood pressure
Initial symptoms of hypovolemia are
Because dehydration can be a cause of hypovolemia, symptoms of each condition can overlap, including loss of skin elasticity, flat veins in the neck, rapid heart rate, and low blood pressure. However, the two terms are
Common initial symptoms of hypovolemia
- leg cramps
- dry mucous membranes
- rapid breathing
- rapid heart rate
- low blood pressure
- loss of skin elasticity
- decreased urine output
Symptoms of hypovolemic shock
Hypovolemia that progresses to hypovolemic shock is a life threatening emergency. Call 911 to seek immediate medical care for serious symptoms of hypovolemic shock,
- abdominal pain
- chest pain
- agitation or irritability
- extreme sleepiness or lack of responsiveness
- cold, clammy skin
- discoloration in the skin — blue or purple on light skin, gray or green on yellow-toned skin, or gray or white on dark skin
Treatment for hypovolemia depends on the cause and severity of the symptoms. If hypovolemia is the result of severe dehydration, treatment focuses on replenishing fluids. In cases of hemorrhagic hypovolemia, the priority is stopping and replacing blood loss.
Treatments for hypovolemia
Because hypovolemia can
- Oral rehydration drinks: Doctors may use this treatment in cases of mild hypovolemia.
- Colloid solutions: These are intravenous (IV) fluids that contain complex sugars and proteins.
- Crystalloid solutions: These are IV fluids that contain electrolytes, most often sodium chloride or a mixture of sodium chloride. Other examples include sodium lactate, potassium chloride, or calcium chloride in water.
- Vasopressors: These are medications that constrict blood vessels and increase blood pressure.
Treatments for hypovolemic shock
When hypovolemia progresses to hypovolemic shock, blood can no longer reach vital organs. This is a life threatening emergency that requires immediate treatment to prevent organ damage.
To treat hypovolemic shock, researchers
Treatments for hemorrhagic shock
For hypovolemic shock due to blood loss, researchers note that replenishing blood results in
- blood plasma transfusion
- cryoprecipitate transfusion, which provides fibrinogen, a protein required for clotting
- platelet transfusion
- red blood cell transfusion
- crystalloid solutions
- colloid solutions
tranexemic acid Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source, a newer treatment that helps induce clotting and stop blood loss
Complications of untreated hypovolemia can be serious, becoming life threatening in cases of hypovolemic shock.
- kidney failure
- brain damage
- liver failure
- lung damage or acute respiratory distress syndrome
- heart failure and cardiac arrest
- tissue death and gangrene
Hypovolemia refers to a serious decrease in the amount of fluid in the body. This can be the result of dehydration or loss of blood due to injury, trauma, or internal bleeding.
Treatment of hypovolemia depends on the underlying cause and the severity of the symptoms. For hypovolemia due to dehydration, doctors focus on replenishing fluids through IV infusions of colloid or crystalloid solutions. In cases of hypovolemia due to loss of blood, the primary goal is stopping the blood loss and replacing lost blood.
Hypovolemia can quickly progress to hypovolemic shock, which is a life threatening emergency. Hypovolemic shock can rapidly cause organ failure that can be fatal.
Contact your doctor as soon as you notice any signs of hypovolemia so that you can receive an early diagnosis and prompt, effective treatment.