Everyone may develop an infection at some stage in their life.
While a healthy immune system clears up many of the infections itself or with the help of medicines, some diseases can persist and progress to life-threatening complications.
Sepsis is one of these life-threatening conditions. It is one of the most common causes of multi-organ failure. Therefore, knowing the warning signs of sepsis is vital and could help save a life.
Keep reading to find out what they are.
What is sepsis?
Sepsis is an emergency medical condition caused by the body’s response to an infection. It can be life-threatening.
Normally, your immune system is on your side, fighting bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites to keep you healthy. Medical professionals aren’t sure why, but sometimes your immune system stops fighting the invading germs and starts fighting its own body. This is how sepsis occurs and progresses.
Sepsis requires the presence of an infection that spreads widely throughout the body. Inflammation and blood clotting associated with sepsis leads to reduced blood flow to limbs and vital organs. It can ultimately lead to organ failure and even death. The mortality rate from severe sepsis is more than 30%.
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Signs and Symptoms of Sepsis
All types of sepsis have the following common signs and symptoms:
- High temperature (greater than 101 degrees F) or low body temperature (below 96.8 degrees F)
- Rapid breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Lack of concentration
- Decreased blood pressure
- Chills or shivering
- Sweating of the skin
The site of the infection that led to the sepsis also determines the signs and symptoms. If you are suffering from any of the signs and symptoms stated above, you may have sepsis in mild to severe forms. A physician will evaluate your condition to differentiate between sepsis and more severe forms called septic shock.
The severity of the signs and symptoms should prompt immediate medical consultation.
You can notice the following warning signs:
- Changes in skin color, such as blue or pale skin
- Rapid breathing
- Extreme lethargy
Causes of sepsis
Any infection can lead to sepsis, but the following types of infections are most likely:
- Lung infections such as pneumonia
- Abdominal infections such as appendicitis
- Bloodstream infections
- Skin infections such as cellulitis
- Infections of the central nervous system (CNS) such as meningitis
Similarly, the following germs are particularly notorious for causing infections that can later lead to sepsis:
- Escherichia coli (E. coli)
Risk factors for Sepsis
Anyone can develop an infection leading to sepsis. Particular causative factors are not known.
However, the following factors likely trigger sepsis:
- Genetic predisposition to sepsis
- Older age
- Weak immune system
- Chronic or serious diseases, such as diabetes and cancer
- Antibiotic resistance
- Decreased nutrition
- Chronic kidney or liver disease
- A high number of germs
- Long hospital stays
- Application of invasive medical devices such as urinary catheters, etc
Septic shock and its symptoms
Septic shock is a life-threatening condition that happens when sepsis is not managed at its earliest stage. It is a severe form of sepsis.
When sepsis is left untreated, toxins released by bacteria can damage the blood vessels causing them to leak the fluid into nearby areas. This can affect your heart’s ability to supply blood to your organs. Blood pressure decreases, and blood doesn’t reach vital organs such as the brain and liver.
Symptoms of septic shock are similar to sepsis but severe in intensity. These include:
- Altered mental state, such as confusion or disorientation
- Nausea and vomiting
- Cold or pale skin
When to see a doctor
Seek urgent medical consultation from your doctor if you’ve recently had an infection or injury and you have possible signs and symptoms of sepsis. If sepsis is suspected, you’ll have to visit the hospital for further diagnosis and treatment.
Meanwhile, severe sepsis and septic shock are medical emergencies. If you think you or someone around you has these conditions, rush straight to the emergency room or dial 911 if you’re in the US or 999 in the UK.
Sepsis can’t be solely diagnosed based on an infection itself. Its diagnosis is mainly based on signs and symptoms.
If you have more than one warning sign, already have an infection, or have apparent risk factors, your doctor might suspect sepsis.
Clinical criteria to diagnose sepsis is based upon these symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing
- Abnormal liver tests
- Mental changes, like feeling disoriented
Medically, doctors confirm sepsis if you have suspected infection with two or more of the following:
- Hypotension-systolic blood pressure less than 100 mmH
- Altered mental status-GCS less than or equal to 14
- A tachypnea-respiratory rate equal to or more than 22 breaths/min
Other tests that can help determine the type of infection, its location, and the level of damage to the body include:
- Urine or stool samples
- A culture from the affected area
- Respiratory secretion testing
- Blood pressure measurements
- Imaging techniques such as an X-ray, ultrasound scan, or CT scan
Sepsis can quickly progress to septic shock and death if it’s not treated timely.
Doctors tend to recommend the following medications to manage sepsis:
- IV antibiotics to fight infection
- Vasoactive medications to maintain the blood pressure
- Insulin to stabilize blood sugar
- Corticosteroids to minimize inflammation
Severe sepsis may also require plenty of IV fluids and a respiratory aid for breathing. Dialysis might be necessary if the kidneys are damaged. Kidneys help clear harmful wastes, salt, and excess water from our bodies.
Excretion of these wastes out of our body is necessary. In dialysis, a machine is used to clear the body of these harmful substances. Severe cases of sepsis may be managed by surgery to remove the source of infection.
The probability of surviving sepsis and septic shock will depend on:
- The cause of infection
- Organism involved
- The number of organs that have been damaged
- How soon you started treatment
Complications of septic shock can include:
- Respiratory failure due to collapse of lungs
- Heart failure
- Kidney failure
- Abnormal blood clots throughout the body
These are serious health complications that will need to be treated urgently.
Septic shock can lead to death because of complications like these.
Recovery from sepsis
Some individuals can make a full recovery fairly quickly.
The time needed to recover from sepsis varies, depending on:
- The severity of the sepsis
- The person’s general health
- Time spent in hospital
- Whether the patient had to be admitted to an ICU
You may suffer from the following physical symptoms featuring recovery period:
- Feeling lethargic or excessively tired
- Decreased muscle power
- Chest pain
- Swollen limbs
These long-term problems are post-sepsis syndrome.
Not everyone experiences these symptoms.
Sepsis is a severe condition caused by an infection from a germ such as a bacterium. It leads to blood poisoning and blood clots, decreasing the blood flow to the vital organs. This leads to the development of sepsis symptoms.
Decreased blood pressure and organ dysfunction lead to severe sepsis, which is also called septic shock. Immediate medical consultation and management are necessary if you’re suffering from the symptoms of sepsis. Otherwise, it could lead to complications and can be fatal.