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Septic shock is what happens as a complication of an infection where toxins can initiate a full-body inflammatory response. It often occurs in people who are elderly or have a weakened immune system.
It is thought that the inflammation resulting from sepsis causes tiny blood clots to form, which can block oxygen and nutrients from reaching vital organs. As a result, the organs fail, causing a profound septic shock. This may cause a drop in blood pressure and may result in death. In fact, septic shock is the most common cause of death in intensive care units in the United States (Fitch, et al., 2002).
Doctors have identified three stages of sepsis:
If you recently had surgery, have been released home, and experience any of the symptoms below, immediate medical treatment may be necessary. The earlier that treatment with antibiotics and intravenous (IV) fluids can be administered, the greater a person’s chance for surviving septic shock.
Symptoms of septic shock require that only one of the following signs be present:
Sepsis can be caused by any type of infection: bacterial, fungal, or viral. Bacterial infections often develop while a person is still in the hospital. 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 especially prevalent in newborns, older people, pregnant women, and those with suppressed immune systems because of HIV or cancer treatments. In addition, the following factors will also make it more likely that a person develop 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, 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:
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 IV fluids will be administered to prevent dehydration and help increase blood pressure. 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 (NHS). Your chances of surviving septic shock will depend on the source of the infection, how many organs have been affected, and how soon you received treatment after your symptoms began.
Written by: Shannon Johnson
Updated on Feb 15, 2013
Medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD
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