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Are You Experiencing Shock After Your Bicycle Crash?

Most cyclists hit the street thinking they’re going to arrive at their destination just fine, but it can all change in the blink of an eye. A bicycle crash, no matter how minor, can be jarring and it’s quite possible to experience shock in the process – both medically and emotionally.

Put simply, the panic, anxiety, fear and other symptoms you may feel after a crash could be because of traumatic shock, which the Mayo Clinic describes as “a critical condition brought on by the sudden drop in blood flow through the body.”

What happens when you go into shock?

If you’ve been involved in a bicycle crash, the first few moments afterward might feel like an out-of-body experience. You may feel denial or panic. Your body is reacting to the stress it has just encountered. And if you’ve experienced additional injury, your body might experience different types of shock.

“Shock may result from trauma, heatstroke, blood loss, an allergic reaction, severe infection, poisoning, severe burns or other causes,” the Mayo Clinic explains. “When a person is in shock, his or her organs aren’t getting enough blood or oxygen. If untreated, this can lead to permanent organ damage or even death.”

Symptoms include:

  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Low blood sugar
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Confusion
  • Clammy hands
  • Dilated pupils
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Headache

This means that even if you don’t experience a head injury or break a bone, a bicycle crash can still have serious health effects. The bicycle lawyers at Bay Area Bike Law are here to help you maneuver not only the legal process after a crash, but also the myriad affects a bicycle crash has on your life. Shock can occur in addition to other injuries, so it’s important to be aware, especially when you seek medical care.

Types of shock

Health professionals classify shock into four different main types, depending on how much blood and oxygen is available to the body, and all can be serious. It may not seem obvious at first what you’re experiencing shock, but if you suspect you are, it’s important to seek medical attention right away.

Obstructive Shock: This is when the blood isn’t able to travel to where it’s needed in the body. As a result, oxygen also isn’t getting to critical parts of the body. A collapsed lung or blood clot is most likely to cause this type of shock.

Cardiogenic Shock: A heart problem, such as a heart attack, is most likely to cause cardiogenic shock, which is when blood isn’t being pumped throughout the body. It’s more rare that a person experiences cardiogenic shock, but if treated quickly, the survival rate is high.

Distributive Shock: This is the most common type of shock, and it can be caused by a number of events (like an allergic reaction, sepsis and some traumatic brain injuries). Distributive shock happens when there isn’t enough blood being distributed to your heart, brain and kidneys. Low blood flow is because blood vessels are dilated. Experts estimate that more than 1 million Americans experience distributive shock.

The symptoms of distributive shock can be common in a lot of instances, so it’s important to pay attention to them, especially if you’ve been in a bike crash and it’s possible you have a TBI.

Symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion
  • Chills or fever
  • Low blood pressure

Hypovolemic Shock: Hypovolemic shock is a lot like distributive shock, but is mostly caused by losing a lot of blood or fluid loss.

How long does shock last?

Physical shock can lead to side effects that can last days, weeks or longer – especially if you require medical care (which can include monitoring, medications, IVs and more). It all depends on your accident, the type of shock you encounter, and your overall health.

Emotional shock, however, can be very different. Also called “acute stress disorder”, traumatic shock is the body’s way of protecting itself from a traumatic event, such as a bicycle crash.

“The brain is unable to fully process or respond to the traumatic event, therefore the mind and body freeze or dissociate to protect the psyche,” explains Dr. Crystal Burwell, Director of Outpatient Services of Newport Healthcare in Atlanta.

The symptoms of traumatic shock (dilated pupils, nausea, muscle tension, lightheadedness) are very similar to other forms of shock, so if you’re experiencing them, you may want to seek out medical help.

A bike crash can be especially traumatic in the moments after it happens because your life was just put in danger. (Which is one of the reasons a bicycle accident can cause PTSD). You also may be injured and not know it yet because you are experiencing an intense rush of adrenaline. It’s enough to send the body into overdrive.

Dr. Burwell explains that emotional and physical shock can be related.

“For instance, someone who has been shot at or been in a car accident may have severe blood loss and go into hypovolemic shock; however, they may also sustain severe emotional trauma,” she says. “Similarly, someone who receives devastating news or experiences a trauma may have a heart attack and go into cardiac shock.”

If you do suspect you are experiencing mental shock, it’s equally important to seek out medical help, as it can impact your day-to-day life.

Are there long term effects of shock?

The short answer is “yes.” Your body will gradually recover from emotional shock as moments after the accident pass, but fear and anxiety can linger for much, much longer. It may be helpful to seek out help from a mental health specialist, especially because other mental health issues, such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), may arise, causing even more emotional damage.

“Trauma is a very difficult experience to overcome. It is treatable; however, it requires time and hard work to process, heal, and recover,” says Dr. Burwell.

For the physical effects of shock, full recovery is possible, which is why it’s so important to seek medical attention early. If you don’t, organ damage can happen due to a lack of blood and/or oxygen.