Hemorrhagic shock in horses may be classified in several ways. Hemorrhage may be considered internal versus external, controlled or uncontrolled, or described based on the severity of hypovolemic shock the patient is experiencing. Regardless of the cause, as the severity of hemorrhage worsens, homeostatic responses are stimulated to ameliorate the systemic and local effects of an oxygen debt. In mild to moderate cases of hemorrhage (<15% blood volume loss), physiological adaptations in the patient may not be clinically apparent. As hemorrhage worsens, often in the uncontrolled situation such as a vascular breach internally, the pathophysiological consequences are numerous. The patient mobilizes fluid and reserve blood volume, notably splenic stored and peripherally circulating erythrocytes, to preferentially supply oxygen to sensitive organs such as the brain and heart. When the global and local delivery of oxygen is insufficient to meet the metabolic needs of the tissues, a cascade of cellular, tissue, and organ dysfunction occurs. If left untreated, the patient dies of hemorrhagic anemic shock.
An understanding of the pathophysiological consequences of hemorrhagic shock in horses and their clinical manifestations may help the practitioner understand the severity of blood volume loss, the need for referral, the need for transfusion, and potential outcome. In cases of severe acute uncontrolled hemorrhage, it is essential to recognize the clinical manifestations quickly to best treat the patient, which may include humane euthanasia.
Uncontrolled hemorrhage may be defined as the development of a vascular breach and hemorrhage that cannot be controlled by interventional hemostasis methods such as external pressure, tourniquet, or ligation.
Causes of uncontrolled hemorrhage in horses may be due to non-surgical trauma, surgical trauma, invasive diagnostic procedures including percutaneous organ biopsy, coagulopathy, hypertension, cardiovascular anomaly, vascular damage, neoplasia such as hemangiosarcoma, toxicity, or idiopathic in nature.
When a critical volume of blood is lost, the respondent changes in heart rate, splenic blood mobilization, and microcirculatory control can no longer compensate for decreasing oxygen delivery to the tissues
In spite of organ-specific microvascular responses (eg, myogenic responses, local mediator modulation of microvasculature, etc), all organs experience decreases in blood flow during severe hypovolemia
Acute, fatal hemorrhagic shock is characterized by progressive metabolic acidosis, coagulopathy, and hypothermia, often termed the “triad of death,” followed by circulatory collapse
Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care, Volume 32, Issue S1, Page 63-71, January 2022.Wiley: Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care: Table of Contents