Sepsis can be classified as a secondary illness which occurs as the body's reaction to a certain infection. Our body has its own capacity to fight a number of infections, germs and diseases through our immune system. Sepsis is also known as blood poisoning or septicaemia, and can lead to extreme conditions that can be life threatening. There can be various triggers to sepsis, the most common ones being injuries and infections. As the body's immune system works to fight an infection, it could go into an overdrive and this leads to sepsis. The major effects of sepsis are seen when the poisoned blood supply travels to the main organs of the body like the heart and the kidneys, which then become affected. Sepsis is a serious medical condition requiring urgent treatment. If you do not seek treatment immediately, the body can develop severe complications including multiple organ failure thereby resulting in death.
What triggers sepsis?
Sepsis causes can be associated with small and big triggers. Any simple infection can cause sepsis, however certain kinds of infections are known to be the most common such as pneumonia, infections related to the abdomen, infections related to kidneys and infections related to the bloodstreams. Since sepsis is a condition following another illness, anyone can fall under the risk of this condition. The number of patients being admitted in hospitals for sepsis is typically high and constant, primarily due to the factors like:
- Aged people are always at risk of sepsis due to impaired immune systems.
- Antibiotic resistance is growing in people as viruses and bacteria get stronger as they change forms.
- There is an increasing number of diseases that directly affect the immune system, making it weaker.
Are you at risk of sepsis?
Since the causes of sepsis are very common, sepsis can occur in anyone. However, the following factors put some people at greater risk:
- Infants, young kids and senior citizens are at a higher risk of sepsis occurring due to infections since their immunity levels are much lower compared to average aged people.
- People suffering from diseases that impair the immune system such as HIV are at a higher risk.
- Treatments like chemotherapy can cause the immune system to grow weaker which can be a cause for sepsis.
- People in hospitals are also at a higher risk of getting infected with hospital acquired diseases and infections which could cause sepsis.
- Patients who are subjected to invasive devices like breathing tubes and catheters are also at a risk of acquiring infections that can lead to sepsis.
Can you feel the symptoms of sepsis?
Sepsis symptoms may occur in any part of the body and can have varied symptoms. Some of the common symptoms include fast breathing, mental changes, decrease in urine output, nausea, fever and so on. The symptoms of sepsis are normally seen in three stages referred to as sepsis, severe sepsis, and septic shock. In a number of cases sepsis may occur without any prior symptoms even under medical care as one is recovering from another ailment. When sepsis signs are ignored, the disease may suddenly flare up, worsen and even lead to death. If you face any of the below mentioned symptoms, it is a warning sign that you may require urgent medical attention.
Stage 1: Sepsis: This is the basic level of the condition when the sepsis starts to build up in the body. The body fights the condition with its own capacity. To diagnose sepsis, you must have at least two or more of the below mentioned symptoms:
- Fever that could measure above 101 degrees F or a very low temperature below 96.8 degrees F
- Increased heart rate that could surpass 90 beats per minute
- Increased breathing rate that could go beyond 20 breaths per minute
- An underlying infection
Stage 2: Severe sepsis: This condition results due to failure of one or more organs. One or more of the below mentioned symptoms can help doctors diagnose severe sepsis in a patient:
- Discolored skin patches
- Considerable decrease in urine output
- Fluctuations in behavior and mental thinking
- Drop in platelet count
- Abnormal chills as the temperature of the body drops
- Lack of consciousness or complete unconsciousness
- Fatigue and unexplained weakness
Stage 3: Septic shock: Septic shock is normally the most critical stage which requires urgent medical attention. Normally patients in septic shock are rushed into a intensive care unit and may require external support to survive. The symptoms of septic shock are all similar to severe sepsis along with a very low blood pressure.
Is sepsis a serious condition?
Yes, sepsis is a serious medical condition that can be potentially life threatening. The symptoms and the condition can vary for each individual, from mild to severe. Although patients having a mild case of sepsis can make a good recovery, severe sepsis can put one at a higher risk of future infections. There can be other medical complications arising out of severe sepsis such as organ failure, or blood clots. In complicated cases of severe sepsis, small blood clots develop throughout the body which can hamper the flow of blood and oxygen throughout out the body. Due to lack of nutrients and oxygen supply flowing to various parts of the body, one or more organs may fail which can ultimately lead to death.
If you feel any of the above symptoms and have been dealing with a prolonged infection, you need to see a doctor at the earliest. Based on the symptoms and if your treating doctor suspects sepsis, there would be further tests performed to probe into the disease. The most basic and primary test would be the blood test that determines the complications associated with the disease such as: an underlying infection, blood clots, kidney or the liver functioning, oxygen flow in the blood, chemical imbalances in the body, platelet count and so on.
Follow up tests to support the findings of the blood test may further be advised. These include, urine tests, wound secretion test (if the sepsis is suspected to be a result of an injury) and a mucus secretion test (to diagnose the bacteria and germs that may be present in the body). Apart from these, there could also be further investigations required such as an internal scan like an X-ray for various parts of the body including the lungs, a CT scan to examine the abdomen, pancreas and intestines, a USG for the abdomen and so on. These tests are suggestive of the causes that could be associated with the sepsis and thereby help in the overall treatment of the patient.
Can sepsis be cured?
Sepsis is one of the most deadly medical conditions. It has the potential to progress really fast, and when not treated it can cause death. A mild sepsis could get into the third stage without giving much time for treatment and hence an early diagnosis could prevent the condition from worsening. Most of the treatment for sepsis should be carried out in a healthcare setup under complete supervision.
A series of medications may be prescribed by doctors to bring the body out of the sepsis condition. These include:
- Administering antibiotics that are given through IV to directly reach the blood stream for a faster reaction
- Vasoactive medicines that correct the dropped blood pressure levels
- Insulin for stabilizing the blood sugar level
- Corticosteroids that relieve symptoms of inflammation and swelling
- Painkillers to help the patient cope with internal pain
In case of severe sepsis patients are given plenty of fluids through an IV, and respiratory support may also be provided in the case the patient become unconscious.