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Sepsis is a life-threatening complication of infection. It often occurs in people who are elderly or have weak immune systems.
Sepsis happens when the body suffers from an infection and the chemicals released into the blood to fight the infection cause inflammation over the entire body. Severe cases of sepsis can lead to septic shock. Septic shock occurs when the inflammation causes tiny blood clots to form, blocking oxygen from vital organs and leading to organ failure and a life-threatening drop in blood pressure.
Sepsis and septic shock affect millions of people around the world and kill more than one in four people who contract it (Dellinger, 2007).
Doctors have identified three stages of sepsis: sepsis, severe sepsis, and septic shock. Sepsis often occurs while people are still in the hospital recovering from a procedure, however this is not always the case. If you experience any of the symptoms below, seek medical attention immediately. The earlier treatment with antibiotics and heavy amounts of IV fluids is started, the greater a person’s chance for survival.
Symptoms of sepsis include:
For a doctor to diagnose sepsis, two of these symptoms must be present.
Symptoms of severe sepsis, which can mean organ dysfunction, require that only one of the following signs be present:
Symptoms of septic shock include:
The following can occur as a result of sepsis:
Sepsis can be cause by any type of infection—bacterial, fungal, or viral. However, the following types of infections are more likely to cause sepsis than others:
According to the Mayo Clinic, sepsis is on the rise in the United States (Mayo Clinic). Possible reasons for this include:
People at high risk of developing sepsis include:
If you have symptoms of sepsis, your doctor will perform certain tests to make a diagnosis and determine the severity of your infection.
One of the first and easiest tests is a blood test. Your blood will be tested to see if there are any of the following complications present:
Depending on your symptoms and the results of a blood test, other tests may be ordered, including:
In cases where the source of the infection is not clear from the tests above, a doctor might want to get an internal view of your body using one of the following:
Sepsis can progress to septic shock and death if it is not treated quickly. The earlier sepsis is diagnosed and treated, the more likely you are to survive. Doctors use a number of medications to treat sepsis, including:
Severe sepsis cases may also require large amounts of IV fluids and a respirator for breathing. If the kidneys are affected due to sepsis, dialysis might also be necessary. Kidneys help filter harmful wastes, salt, and excess water from the blood. In dialysis, a machine performs these functions.
In some cases, surgery may be needed to remove a source of infection, such as draining a pus-filled abscess or removing infected tissue.
Written by: Krista O'Connell
Medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD
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