Whatever the cause--a heart attack, a car accident, a serious bacterial infection--the glassy-eyed catatonia of a person in shock often portends death. Every year in the U.S. alone, about 500,000 people go into sudden shock, and half die from it. For millions more, it is the final stage of terminal illness. Doctors know a good deal about what causes the condition: very low blood pressure that results in dangerously reduced delivery of blood to tissues. And they know that it kills when the lack of oxygen irreparably damages the brain and other vital organs. They also have a few tools for reversing shock before it goes too far, at least in some people. But all too often treatment is ineffective, especially when a runaway infection is the trigger.
Because shock is so devastating, many investigators are aggressively trying to develop better treatments. Yet despite their initial promise, several seemingly helpful drug candidates have failed in recent years. To our great satisfaction, though, a chance discovery we made not long ago has led to a successful therapy. This agent does not cure the conditions that caused the shock, but it is already helping to treat thousands of shock victims. In addition, during the course of our research into this compound, we learned new information about the underlying mechanisms of shock. With luck, our insights and those of others may lead to further advances in treatment.
This article was originally published with the title Insights into Shock.