Cryptic Shock – Identifying the Unseen (PART 1)

Case Presentation

A 68-year-old man presented to the Emergency Department with complaints of breathing difficulty and fever for three days. The patient is a known diabetic and hypertensive.

After detailed history taking, clinical examination, and radiological workup, the patient was diagnosed with right-sided lobar pneumonia (Community-acquired) and immediately started on intravenous antibiotics. In addition, necessary cultures and blood samples were taken for evaluation.

At the time of presentation, his vitals were HR – 92/min, BP – 130/70mmHg, RR – 30/min, SpO2 – 90% with RA à 96% with 2L O2. He underwent bladder catheterization.

During the 1st hour in the ER, the patient had a very low urine output, which continued for the next few hours. Lactate levels were more than 4mmol/L.

Based on the symptoms, oliguria, and hyperlactatemia, the patient was diagnosed to have sepsis and was initiated on fluid resuscitation. After 2 hours, the patient remained oliguric still, and his BP declined to 120/70mmHg.

After 6 hours, the patient’s BP became 110/60mmHg (MAP – 77). He became anuric and developed altered sensorium. Since he did not meet the criteria of septic shock, he was continued on IV fluids and antibiotics.

After 12 hours, the BP became 80/40mmHg (MAP – 63mmHg) à developed Multiorgan Dysfunction Syndrome. He was then started on vasopressors and mechanical ventilation.

By day 3, the patient further deteriorated and went into cardiac arrest. ROSC was not achieved.

Case Analysis

The treatment initiated was based on protocols like Surviving Sepsis Guidelines and Septic Shock management. So how did the process fail in order to adequately resuscitate this patient? Could something have been done more differently?

The case you read above is a very common scenario. Approximately 30% of the people coming to the ER are hypertensive, and around 10% have diabetes mellitus. They form a huge population, among whom the incidence of any other disease increases their morbidity and early mortality.

Before we delve into the pathology in these patients, let us look at the basic definitions of shock/hypotension.

  • SBP < 90mmHg
  • MAP < 65 mmHg
  • Decrease in SBP > 40mmHg
  • Organ Dysfunction
  • Hyperlactatemia
  • Shock: A state of circulatory insufficiency that creates an imbalance between tissue oxygen supply (delivery) and demand (consumption), resulting in end-organ dysfunction.
  • Septic Shock: Adult patients can be identified using the clinical criteria of hypotension requiring the use of vasopressors to maintain MAP of 65mmHg or greater and having a serum lactate level greater than 2 mmol/L persisting after adequate fluids resuscitation.
  • Cryptic Shock: Presence of hyperlactatemia (or systemic hypoperfusion) in a case of sepsis with normotension.

Based on all the information given above;

  1. what do you think was wrong with our patient?
  2. What kind of shock did he have?
  3. Could we have managed him any other way?
  4. When should we have started inotropes?
  5. Did the fact that he was hypertensive and diabetic have to do with his early deterioration? If so, how?
  6. When did the patient-first develop signs of shock?
  7. What are the different signs and symptoms of shock, and how are they recognized in the ER?

Keep your answers ready… 

Part 2 of Cryptic Shock Series – Vascular Pathology and What is considered ‘Shock’ in Hypertensive patients

Part 3 of Cryptic Shock Series – Individualised BP management

Part 4 of Cryptic Shock Series – Latest Trends

References and Further Reading

  1. Ranzani OT, Monteiro MB, Ferreira EM, Santos SR, Machado FR, Noritomi DT; Grupo de Cuidados Críticos Amil. Reclassifying the spectrum of septic patients using lactate: severe sepsis, cryptic shock, vasoplegic shock and dysoxic shock. Rev Bras Ter Intensiva. 2013 Oct-Dec;25(4):270-8. doi: 10.5935/0103-507X.20130047.
  2. Singer M, Deutschman CS, Seymour CW, Shankar-Hari M, Annane D, Bauer M, Bellomo R, Bernard GR, Chiche JD, Coopersmith CM, Hotchkiss RS, Levy MM, Marshall JC, Martin GS, Opal SM, Rubenfeld GD, van der Poll T, Vincent JL, Angus DC. The Third International Consensus Definitions for Sepsis and Septic Shock (Sepsis-3). JAMA. 2016 Feb 23;315(8):801-10. doi: 10.1001/jama.2016.0287.
  3. Shankar-Hari M, Phillips GS, Levy ML, Seymour CW, Liu VX, Deutschman CS, Angus DC, Rubenfeld GD, Singer M; Sepsis Definitions Task Force. Developing a New Definition and Assessing New Clinical Criteria for Septic Shock: For the Third International Consensus Definitions for Sepsis and Septic Shock (Sepsis-3). JAMA. 2016 Feb 23;315(8):775-87. doi: 10.1001/jama.2016.0289.
  4. Education Resources – Sepsis Trust
  5. The Research of Predicting Septic Shock – International Emergency Medicine Education Project (
  6. Sepsis – International Emergency Medicine Education Project (
  7. Empiric Antibiotics for Sepsis in the ED Infographics – International Emergency Medicine Education Project (
  8. Sepsis – An Overview and Update – International Emergency Medicine Education Project (
Cite this article as: Gayatri Lekshmi Madhavan, India, "Cryptic Shock – Identifying the Unseen (PART 1)," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, October 4, 2021,, date accessed: October 1, 2023

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