Sepsis is a severe medical condition caused by an extreme immune system response to infection. Widespread inflammation occurs due to chemicals that are released into the blood. This is the body’s natural response to counter an infection. Known as septicemia, or blood poisoning, sepsis is a dangerous condition which is caused by an injury or infection. As the body tries to fight the infection it goes into overdrive, causing sepsis.
The supply of blood to the important organs like the heart, brain, and kidneys can be reduced by this. Multiple organ failure, or death, can take place if immediate treatment for sepsis is not provided. This is a dangerous condition whereby the body fights an infection that is far-reaching, and has spread through the bloodstream. If you become septic, your blood pressure will probably decrease. This will cause poor blood circulation and an absence of blood perfusion in vital organs and tissues. Shock is the term used to refer to this condition. When it is caused by an infection it is known as septic shock. Sepsis can occur when the defense mechanism in the body or the infecting agent makes toxic substances.
When should you seek medical attention?
If you had an infection recently or suffered an injury and suspect that you may be displaying early symptoms of sepsis, you should consult a doctor immediately. You may be sent to the hospital to be further diagnosed and treated if sepsis is suspected.
Both septic shock and severe sepsis are considered medical emergencies. If you or someone you know has one of these conditions, contact your emergency services and request an ambulance.
How to diagnose sepsis
Simple measurements of your heart rate, temperature, and rate of breathing are used to diagnose sepsis. A blood test may also be required. Several tests may be conducted to discern the type of infection, where it is located, and what body organs have been affected. They include:
- Stool or urine samples
- Wound culture
- Testing of the respiratory secretion
- Testing of blood pressure
- Imaging studies like ultrasound scan, CT scan or an X-ray
The early sepsis symptoms include:
- Rapid respiration
- Rapid heartbeat
After the development of early sepsis, the symptoms of severe sepsis or septic shock may occur soon after. These symptoms include:
- Intense muscle pain
- Slurred speech
- Severe dyspnea (shortness of breath)
- Decreased urination
- Loss of consciousness
- Skin that is clammy, pale, cold or mottled
- Nausea and vomiting
In most of the cases it is fairly easy to ascertain heart rate, count breaths per minute, and test for fever or hypothermia with a thermometer at home. However, it may prove more difficult to ascertain the source of the infection. If the person is displaying symptoms of infection such as productive cough, dysuria, fever, or a wound that secretes pus, you may suspect that this person has sepsis. There are several laboratory tests, like determination of the white blood cell count and PaCO2, that are conducted to assist in the diagnosis of sepsis. In most cases, a definitive diagnosis of sepsis is made by a physician in conjunction with laboratory test results.
Sepsis that is very serious
The following will assist you in determining whether or not you have the symptoms of severe sepsis. If you do meet the below requirements, you may also be at risk of organ failure.
- Major decrease in the output of urine
- Breathing becoming difficult
- Pain in the abdomen
- Sudden change in mental status
- Minimized platelet count
- Abnormal heartbeat
Aging and elderly patients have similar symptoms to those stated for adults, the first apparent symptoms are often confusion, absence of coordination, chills, extreme weakness, faster breathing, sometimes gasping for breath, and a dusky skin appearance. Pediatric patients may also develop similar symptoms to those found in adults, but the most common symptoms are fever and reduced urine output. Children may show signs of lethargy and decreased activity.
Neonatal sepsis (sepsis neonatorum), is a neonatal infection that can develop in newborn babies during childbirth. It 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 time of delivery, cloudy or smelly amniotic fluid, abnormal vital signs, seizures, and projectile vomiting.
Septic shock is confirmed when the patient is showing the signs and symptoms of severe sepsis. Extremely low blood pressure that fails to respond to IV fluids will be another key indicator of the condition.
When should you seek medical attention?
It is most commonly hospitalized individuals that will develop sepsis. Those in the ICU are more likely to develop the infections that can cause sepsis. Immediate medical care should be given if an infection develops after surgery, or if signs and symptoms of sepsis develop.
What causes sepsis?
Although any infection can cause sepsis, the following infections will be more likely to cause it:
In the US, cases of sepsis seem to be increasing. This may be due to:
- An aging population
- Drug-resistant bacteria
- Weakness due to cancer treatments, HIV, or drugs used in organ transplant.
What factors contribute to sepsis development?
You can develop sepsis if:
- You are younger or aging
- Your immune system is weak
- You are severely ill
- You are often admitted to the ICU
- You have invasive devices like IV catheters or breathing tubes
What complications can develop due to sepsis?
Sepsis can vary in its level of severity. The flow of blood to the critical organs is reduced as the sepsis worsens. Blood clots can form in your arms, organs, toes, fingers, or legs. This may lead to eventual organ failure and gangrene (tissue death).
The rate of mortality for septic shock is almost 50%. The majority of people who suffer from a less severe form of sepsis often recover. Those who have had a more severe form of sepsis may be more vulnerable to future infections.