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Sepsis is the result of an infection, and causes drastic changes in the body. It can be very dangerous and potentially life-threatening.
It occurs when chemicals that fight infection by triggering inflammatory reactions are released into the bloodstream.
Doctors have identified three stages of sepsis:
It is thought that the inflammation resulting from sepsis causes tiny blood clots to form. This can block oxygen and nutrients from reaching vital organs.
The inflammation occurs most often in older adults or those with a weakened immune system. But both sepsis and septic shock can happen to anyone.
Septic shock is the most common cause of death in intensive care units in the United States.
Early symptoms of sepsis should not be ignored. These include:
Severe sepsis is defined as sepsis with evidence of organ damage that usually affects the kidneys, heart, lungs, or brain. Symptoms of severe sepsis include:
People who are experiencing septic shock will experience the symptoms of severe sepsis, but they will also have very low blood pressure that doesn’t respond to fluid replacement.
A bacterial, fungal, or viral infection can cause sepsis. Any of the infections may begin at home or while you are in the hospital for treatment of another condition.
Sepsis commonly originates from:
Certain factors such as age or prior illness can put you at greater risk for developing septic shock. This condition is common in newborns, older adults, pregnant women, and those with suppressed immune systems caused by HIV, rheumatic diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, or psoriasis. And inflammatory bowel diseases or cancer treatments could cause it.
The following factors could also make it more likely that a person develops septic shock:
If you have symptoms of sepsis, the next step is to conduct tests to determine how far along the infection is. Diagnosis is often made with a blood test. This type of test can determine if any of the following factors are present:
Depending on your symptoms and the results of the blood test, there are other tests that a doctor may want to perform to determine the source of your infection. These include:
In cases where the source of the infection is not clear from the tests above, a doctor could also apply the following methods of getting an internal view of your body:
Septic shock can cause a variety of very dangerous and life-threatening complications that can be fatal. Possible complications include:
The complications you may experience, and the outcome of your condition can depend on factors such as:
The earlier sepsis is diagnosed and treated, the more likely you are to survive. Once sepsis is diagnosed, you will most likely be admitted to an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for treatment. Doctors use a number of medications to treat septic shock, including:
Large amounts of intravenous (IV) fluids will be administered to treat dehydration and help increase blood pressure and blood flow to the organs. A respirator for breathing may also be necessary. Surgery may be performed to remove a source of infection, such as draining a pus-filled abscess or removing infected tissue.
Septic shock is a severe condition, and more than 50 percent of cases will result in death. Your chances of surviving septic shock will depend on the source of the infection, how many organs have been affected, and how soon you receive treatment after you first begin experiencing symptoms.
Written by: Shannon Johnson and Ana Gotter
Medically reviewed on: Jul 11, 2016: Graham Rogers, MD
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