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Treating shock

Medics administer blood plasma to an American casualty, Philippines, 1944.

Medics administer blood plasma to an American casualty, Philippines, 1944.

Credits:(SC 196094) Courtesy of the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, D.C.

Shock is a serious life-threatening condition where an insufficient amount of blood is present in the tissues. The danger of shock was researched during the First World War. It was difficult for doctors to recognise shock, but it was generally associated with wounds and blood loss. Doctors found that replacement fluid such as saline could prevent the effects of shock for a short time. However, the patient usually had to have a life-saving blood transfusion. It was also important to keep the soldier warm.

The problem of shock was a priority for the British in the Second World War. They established a Committee on Traumatic Shock to research and then provide a pamphlet to all medical practitioners in 1940. Any patient believed to be suffering from shock was given a blood transfusion as soon as possible. Supplies during the war were plentiful. The isolation of blood plasma and its use as a substitute for whole blood meant that patients could be transfused without blood types having to be matched. Out-of-date blood could be used to prepare stable cell-free plasma which was useful in the treatment of shock.


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Techniques and Technologies:


E B Lerner and R M Moscati, ‘The Golden Hour: Scientific Fact or Medical "Urban Legend?"’, Academic Emergency Medicine, 8/7 (2001), pp 758–760



The liquid component of blood, in which the blood cells are suspended. Plasma makes up around 55 per cent of blood's total volume.