Sepsis is a life-threatening condition, which is a result of the body’s reaction to an infection. Your body can respond to an infection by going into overdrive despite its immune system’s protection against diseases and infections.
Sepsis is a dangerous condition where the body fights an infection that is far-reaching and had spread through the bloodstream. If you become "septic," you will probably have a low blood pressure, which causes poor blood circulation and the absence of blood perfusion in your body's vital organs and tissues. When a person's sepsis is severe with a low blood pressure, the condition is called as a "septic shock." Any type of infection (bacterial, viral, or fungal) can lead to the development of sepsis.
Sepsis, which is an inflammation of the body, is caused by chemicals that are released by the immune system into the bloodstream to fight an infection. A septic shock is an acute illness that can be one of the results of severe sepsis cases.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that there are no less than 1 million cases of sepsis each year. This infection claims the lives of more than 28,000 Americans annually.
However, there are a few treatment options for those people who have developed sepsis, but success is very far from guaranteed. Physicians often take drastic actions in order to fight the infection and the mortality is only around 40 percent, which is very low. With aggressive treatments and care, it can be lowered down to approximately 25 percent.
Patients who have sepsis are more likely to survive if they receive an early treatment. If there is severe sepsis, the patient needs to be closely monitored and treated in an intensive care unit (ICU). Life-saving steps should be taken to stabilize the vital signs of the patient, especially the function of the heart, brain, and respiration in case a septic shock occurs.
The Symptoms of Sepsis
Sepsis, severe sepsis, and septic shock are the stages of sepsis. Sometimes, you can have sepsis while you are recovering from a medical procedure in the hospital. The survival rate is higher if you are treated earlier. Consider looking for medical advice if you experience any of the following symptoms:
The only way to be diagnosed with sepsis is if you show any two of the given symptoms:
- having a body temperature of over 101ºF or less than 96.8ºF
- a heart rate of over 90 beats per minute
- having a respiratory rate of 20 breaths per minute
- an underlying or established illness
Severe sepsis happens when one of your body organs fails. One or more of the following symptoms are the pre-requisites of a severe sepsis diagnosis:
- skin spots
- low urine output
- sudden changes in mental capabilities
- decreased blood platelet count
- breathing issues
- abnormal cardiovascular function
- severe weakness
The symptoms of septic shock are similar to those of severe sepsis, but it also includes a very low blood pressure.
The Effects of Severe Sepsis
Even if sepsis can be fatal, the condition ranges from mild to severe. Mild cases of sepsis have more chances of recovery. According to the Mayo Clinic, 50 percent of septic shock cases can lead to death. Severe sepsis increases the chances of having future infections. Severe sepsis or septic shock can cause blood clots in your body, which can hinder the blood and oxygen flow to body organs and parts, risking organ failure or tissue damage.
In the past two decades, the number of deaths in sepsis patients has gone up. Many reasons have led to this increased number. Because of the strong medications used in cancer treatments and organ transplants, people's immune systems are weakened leading to an increase of sepsis cases. The number of senior citizens whose immune systems are weak has also grown due to an increase in the aging population.
The frequent use of antibiotics can also cause the bacteria to become immune to the antibiotics, making sepsis treatments very hard.
Causes of Sepsis
Any infection can trigger sepsis. However, the following health conditions can accelerate the infection in the body:
- abdominal infections
- infection in the bloodstream (bacteremia)
- kidney disease
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is an annual increase of sepsis cases in the United States. Between 2000 and 2008, hospital admissions due to sepsis increased from 621,000 up to 1,141,000. The possible causes of the increased admissions are:
- a rising population of elderly people
- increased resistance of bacteria due to antibiotic use
- weakened immune system in many people
People Who Are Vulnerable to Sepsis
Sepsis can affect anyone, although its chances of developing are higher in the following groups:
- very young kids and the aged
- immunocompromised people e.g., people who are HIV-positive and those undergoing chemotherapy for cancer
- patients in the intensive care unit (ICU)
- people who utilize invasive equipment such as catheters and breathing tubes
The aged or the elderly have similar symptoms with other people who have sepsis, but the first apparent symptoms are often confusion, the absence of coordination along with chills, extreme weakness, faster breathing, sometimes gasping for breath, and a dusky skin appearance. Pediatric patients may also develop similar symptoms to those in adults, but their most common symptoms are fever and a reduction in their urine output. Children may show signs of lethargy and a decreased activity, which are very noticeable since young children are usually hyperactive.
Neonatal sepsis (sepsis neonatorum) is suspected in neonates up to 28 days old if the rectal temperature is 100.4°F or higher. Other signs and symptoms for neonatal sepsis include fever in the mother at the time of delivery, a cloudy or smelly amniotic fluid, abnormal vital signs, seizures, and projectile vomiting.
Diagnosis of Sepsis
If you show the infection’s symptoms, your doctor will ask for tests to check and determine the disease’s severity. A blood examination is one of the first tests conducted to monitor health issues such as:
- clotting-related issues
- abnormal kidney functions
- a reduced amount of oxygen in the body
- an imbalance of electrolytes
Considering your blood test results and your symptoms, your doctor may request for the following tests:
- urinalysis (urine test) for bacterial examination
- a wound culture test to examine an open wound infection
- a sputum culture test to determine the germs that are causing the infection
If the above tests don’t show the source of your infection, the physician may prescribe one of the following internal scans:
- X-ray - a type of electromagnetic radiation used to create images inside your body.
- Computed Tomography (CT) Scan - a type of scan used to check for possible infections in the appendix, pancreas, or bowel area.
- Ultrasound - can be used to scan infections in the gallbladder or ovaries.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) - a scan that can identify soft tissue infections.
Treatment for Sepsis
Sepsis is a chronic and highly dangerous disease, which has to be treated at the earliest signs of confirmation.
Treating sepsis can include:
- Antibiotics – people with sepsis should be given antibiotics as soon as possible, ideally within six hours. An intravenous administration of broad-spectrum antibiotics can be done to effectively lower down the infection. Your doctor might change your antibiotic depending on the results of your blood tests to choose the best antibiotic that can get rid of the bacteria that have caused the infection.
- Vasopressor Medication – is given if you have a consistent low blood pressure even if you have already received intravenous fluids. Vasopressors can help by constricting your blood vessels, thereby increasing your blood pressure.