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What Is Cardiogenic Shock?

Cardiogenic (kar-dee-oh-JE-nik) shock is a condition in which a suddenly weakened heart isn't able to pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. The condition is a medical emergency and is fatal if not treated right away.

The most common cause of cardiogenic shock is damage to the heart muscle from a severe heart attack. However, not everyone who has a heart attack has cardiogenic shock. In fact, on average, only about 7 percent of people who have heart attacks develop the condition.

If cardiogenic shock does occur, it's very dangerous. When people die from heart attacks in hospitals, cardiogenic shock is the most common cause of death.

What Is Shock?

The medical term "shock" refers to a state in which not enough blood and oxygen reach important organs in the body, such as the brain and kidneys. Shock causes very low blood pressure and may be life threatening.

Shock can have many causes. Cardiogenic shock is only one type of shock. Other types of shock include hypovolemic (hy-po-vo-LEE-mik) shock and vasodilatory (VAZ-oh-DILE-ah-tor-e) shock.

Hypovolemic shock is a condition in which the heart can’t pump enough blood to the body because of severe blood loss.

In vasodilatory shock, the blood vessels suddenly relax. When the blood vessels are too relaxed, blood pressure drops and blood flow becomes very low. Without enough blood pressure, blood and oxygen don’t reach the body’s organs.

A bacterial infection in the bloodstream, a severe allergic reaction, or damage to the nervous system (brain and nerves) may cause vasodilatory shock.

When a person is in shock (from any cause), not enough blood and oxygen are reaching the body's organs. If shock lasts more than a few minutes, the lack of oxygen starts to damage the body’s organs. If shock isn't treated quickly, it can cause permanent organ damage or death.

Some of the signs and symptoms of shock include:

  • Confusion or lack of alertness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • A sudden and ongoing rapid heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Pale skin
  • A weak pulse
  • Rapid breathing
  • Decreased or no urine output
  • Cool hands and feet

If you think that you or someone else is in shock, call 9–1–1 right away for emergency treatment. Prompt medical care can save your life and prevent or limit damage to your body’s organs.


In the past, almost no one survived cardiogenic shock. Now, about half of the people who go into cardiogenic shock survive. This is because of prompt recognition of symptoms and improved treatments, such as medicines and devices. These treatments can restore blood flow to the heart and help the heart pump better.

In some cases, devices that take over the pumping function of the heart are used. Implanting these devices requires major surgery.


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July 01, 2011 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.

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