Health Desk – Sepsis occurs when your immune system has a dangerous reaction to an infection. This causes widespread inflammation throughout your body that can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and even death. Many different types of infections can trigger sepsis, which is a medical emergency. The sooner you get treatment, the better your outcome.
What is sepsis?
Sepsis is a life-threatening medical emergency caused by your body’s overreaction to an infection. Without immediate treatment, this can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death.
Sepsis is your body’s overreaction to an infection. When you have an infection, your immune system tries to fight it. But sometimes your immune system stops fighting the infection and starts damaging your normal tissues and organs, causing massive inflammation throughout your body.
At the same time, an abnormal chain reaction in your clotting system may cause blood clots to form in your blood vessels. This reduces blood flow to various parts of your body and can lead to significant damage or even failure.
What are the three stages of sepsis?
Healthcare providers used to organize sepsis into three stages: sepsis, severe sepsis, and septic shock. Now, they identify the situation on a more fluid scale. The scale ranges from infection and bacteremia (bacteria in your bloodstream) to sepsis and septic shock, which can lead to multiple organ dysfunction and even death.
Who does sepsis affect?
Sepsis can affect anyone, but people with any type of infection, especially bacteremia, are at particularly high risk.
Other people who are at higher risk include:
- People over 65, newborns and infants, and pregnant people.
- People with medical conditions such as diabetes, obesity, cancer and kidney disease.
- People with weak immune system.
- People who are in hospital for other medical reasons.
- People with serious injuries, such as large burns or wounds.
- People with catheters, IVs, or breathing tubes.
How common is sepsis?
More than 1.7 million people are diagnosed with sepsis each year in the United States. There are differences in sepsis rates between different demographic groups. Sepsis is more common in older adults, with the incidence increasing every year after age 65.
Symptoms and causes of sepsis-
Nine symptoms of sepsis that require immediate medical attention.
Sepsis is a medical emergency. If you have any symptoms of sepsis, go to the emergency room.
What are the symptoms of sepsis?
Sepsis can affect many different areas of your body, so there are many possible symptoms.
If an infection such as blood poisoning (septicemia) has triggered your condition, you may develop a sepsis rash on your skin. The rash makes your skin appear red and discolored. You may notice small, dark red spots on your skin.
Other common sepsis symptoms include:
- Urinary problems, such as less urination or the urge to urinate.
- Low energy/weakness.
- Fast heart rate.
- Low blood pressure.
- Fever or hypothermia (very low body temperature).
- Shivering or feeling cold.
- Hot or clammy/sweaty skin.
- Confusion or agitation.
- Hyperventilation (rapid breathing) or shortness of breath.
- Extreme pain or discomfort.
What causes sepsis?
Bacterial infection is one of the most common causes of sepsis. Fungal, parasitic, and viral infections are also possible causes of sepsis. You can get sepsis when an infection starts a chain reaction throughout your body that causes organ failure.
The infection leading to sepsis can begin in many different parts of the body. Common locations and types of infections that can cause sepsis include:
Infections involving your lungs, such as pneumonia.
Urinary tract system-
Urinary tract infections are especially likely if you have a catheter.
Infection of your appendix (appendicitis).
Infection in your abdominal cavity (peritonitis).
Gallbladder or liver infection.
Central nervous system
Infection of your brain or spinal cord.
Bacteria can enter your skin through wounds, swelling, or holes made from catheters and IVs.
Conditions such as cellulitis (inflammation of the connective tissue of your skin).
Is sepsis contagious?
Sepsis itself is not contagious – you cannot spread it to other people. But you can spread infections that can cause sepsis.
Diagnosis and Testing
How is sepsis diagnosed?
It is very important to quickly identify people with such infections who may develop sepsis. There are no strict criteria for diagnosing sepsis. That’s why providers use a combination of findings — from a physical exam, lab tests, X-rays and other tests — to identify infection (blood cultures) and diagnose sepsis.
Providers can sometimes suspect sepsis at the bedside by using a set of sepsis criteria – a tool called Quick Sequential Organ Failure Assessment (qSOFA). You may have sepsis if you have a confirmed or probable infection and have at least two of the following criteria:
Low blood pressure: Systolic blood pressure (top number) reading less than 100 mmHg (millimeters of mercury).
High respiratory rate: Respiratory rate faster than 22 breaths per minute.
Glasgow Coma Scale: A score of 15 or less on the Glasgow Coma Scale, which determines your level of consciousness.
The provider will request several additional tests to identify your infection and any organ damage or dysfunction. These tests may include:
Blood tests: complete blood count (CBC), blood cultures, tests to check for abnormal liver and kidney function, clotting problems, and electrolyte abnormalities.
Blood oxygen level: A test to evaluate the level of oxygen in your blood.
Urinalysis: Urinalysis and urine culture.
Imaging tests: X-ray or CT scan.
Management and Treatment
How do you treat sepsis?
Treatment of sepsis needs to be started immediately. The most important concern in sepsis protocols is prompt diagnosis and prompt treatment.
If your provider diagnoses you with sepsis, they will usually place you in a hospital intensive care unit (ICU) for specialized treatment. You may receive the following treatment for sepsis:
Antibiotics: If you have a bacterial infection you will be given antibiotics.
IV (intravenous) fluids: You will need fluids to maintain blood flow to your organs and prevent your blood pressure from getting too low.
Vasopressor medications: Vasopressors tighten the blood vessels. In some cases, you may need them to reach adequate blood pressure.
Appropriate supportive care: If organ failure occurs, you will need other sepsis treatments such as dialysis for kidney failure or mechanical ventilation for respiratory failure.
Surgery: You may need surgery to remove the damaged tissue.
How can I help prevent sepsis?
Steps you can take to prevent sepsis include:
- Practicing good hygiene, including hand washing.
- Keeping wounds and other sores clean and covered until they heal.
- Staying up to date on recommended vaccines.
- Getting regular medical care for chronic conditions.
- Seek medical attention immediately if you suspect an infection.
What is the outlook (prognosis) for sepsis?
With prompt diagnosis and treatment, many people with mild sepsis survive. Without treatment, most people with more severe stages of sepsis will die. Even after treatment, 30% to 40% of people with septic shock, the most severe stage of sepsis, will die.
How long does it take to die from sepsis?
Septic shock can lead to death in as little as 12 hours.
What is the life expectancy of a person after surviving sepsis?
Many people die months and years after surviving sepsis. But researchers don’t know whether the increased risk of death is due to already having sepsis or an underlying health condition.
Due to this and other factors, research studies show varying rates of life expectancy after sepsis. These rates vary widely but generally indicate that more than half of sepsis survivors will die within five years.
What are the long term complications of sepsis?
With prompt treatment, many people with sepsis recover completely and go on to lead normal lives. But others may experience long-term effects. You may develop the following complications:
- Nightmares or hallucinations.
- Panic attacks.
- Pain in joints and muscles.
- Decreased cognitive functioning (learning, remembering, concentrating, and decision making).
- Organ failure.
- You also have a higher risk of developing sepsis again. Therefore, make sure to get any new infection treated immediately.
If I survive sepsis, what will recovery be like?
If you survive sepsis, you will probably need rehabilitation before returning home. Your body has been through a lot. Healthcare providers will help you restore your health, and you will gradually learn to take care of yourself again. Even getting up and standing may be difficult at first, depending on your condition. You’ll work with a provider to lift and move your body and practice taking yourself to the bathroom and bathing. Once you regain your strength and restore your mobility, you will be able to go home.
What will happen when I get home?
You need to give your body, mind and spirit time to heal. You may experience some unpleasant symptoms when you get home. Physical effects may include:
- Fatigue and weakness.
- Difficulty in breathing.
- Body aches and pains.
- Difficulty in walking and sleeping.
- Loss of appetite and/or weight loss.
- Dry, itchy skin.
- Brittle nails.
- Hair fall.
Mental and emotional effects may include:
- Want to be alone.
- Poor concentration.
- Anxiety and/or depression.
- Frustration and anger.
What can I do at home to improve my health?
Your healthcare provider will help you develop a plan to continue your recovery. At first, you’ll work on small, achievable goals like bathing and getting dressed. You will work to rebuild your physical strength, but it will also be important to take care of your mental health. Talk to your family, friends, and health care providers about how you are feeling. It will take some time, but eventually, you should start feeling like yourself again.
Sepsis is a life-threatening medical emergency. To avoid sepsis, be sure to get any infection treated promptly. If you delay treatment, a simple infection can lead to a fatal condition. If you have an infection that is not healing or is getting worse, seek medical care right away. Without treatment, sepsis can lead to serious complications and even death.
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