What is sepsis?
What are the symptoms of sepsis?
There are three stages of sepsis:
- Severe sepsis
- Septic shock.
Sepsis can happen while you’re still in the hospital recovering from a procedure. It’s important to seek immediate medical attention if you have any of the below symptoms. The earlier you seek treatment, the greater your chances of survival.
Symptoms of sepsis include:
- A fever above 101ºF (38ºC) or a temperature below 96.8ºF (36ºC)
- Heart rate higher than 90 beats per minute
- Breathing rate higher than 20 breaths per minute
- Probable or confirmed infection
You must have two of these symptoms before a doctor can diagnose sepsis.
Severe sepsis occurs when there’s organ failure. You must have one or more of the following signs to be diagnosed with severe sepsis:
- Patches of discolored skin
- Decreased urination
- Changes in mental ability
- Low platelet (blood clotting cells) count
- Problems breathing
- Abnormal heart functions
- Chills due to falling in body temperature
- Extreme weakness
Symptoms of septic shock include;
- The symptoms of severe sepsis.
- Very low blood pressure.
Any infection can trigger sepsis, but the following types of infections are more likely to cause sepsis:
- Abdominal infection
- Kidney infection
- Bloodstream infection
According to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, the number of sepsis cases in the United States increases every year. Possible reasons for the increase include:
- An aging population, because sepsis is more common in seniors
- An increase in antibiotic resistance, which happens when an antibiotic loses its ability to resist or kill bacteria
- An increase in the number of people with illnesses that weaken their immune systems
Who is at risk for sepsis?
Although some people have a higher risk of infection, anyone can get sepsis. People who are at risk include:
- Young children and seniors
- People with weaker immune systems, such as those with HIV or those in chemotherapy treatment for cancer
- People being treated in an intensive care unit (ICU)
- People exposed to invasive devices, such as intravenous catheters or breathing tubes
Newborns and sepsis
Neonatal sepsis is when your baby gets a blood infection within the first month of life. Neonatal sepsis is classified based on the timing of the infection, according to whether the infection was contracted during the birth process or after birth. This helps the doctor decide what kind of treatment to administer. Low birth weight and premature babies are more susceptible to late-onset sepsis because their immune systems are immature. Some signs include:
- Improper breastfeeding
- low body temperature
- Apnea (temporary stopping of breathing)
- Pale color
- Poor skin circulation with cool extremities
- Abdominal swelling
- Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
- Problems feeding
Neonatal sepsis is still a leading cause of infant death, but with early diagnosis and treatment, the baby will recover completely and have no other problems. With maternal universal screening and proper neonatal testing, the risk of neonatal sepsis has decreased significantly.
Is sepsis contagious?
How is sepsis diagnosed?
If you have symptoms of sepsis, other tests must be carried out to determine how severe the problem is. One of the first tests is a blood test. Your blood is checked for complications like:
- Clotting problems
- Abnormal liver or kidney function
- Decreased amount of oxygen
- An imbalance in minerals called electrolytes that affect the amount of water in your body as well as the acidity of your blood
Depending on your symptoms and the results of your blood test, Other tests might be considered. Those tests include;
- A urine test (to check for bacteria in your urine)
- A wound secretion test (to check an open wound for an infection)
- A mucus secretion test (to identify germs responsible for an infection)
If the infection source is not determined by the tests internal view of your body is recommended. This includes;
- X-rays to view the lungs
- CT scans to view possible infections in the appendix, pancreas, or bowel area
- ultrasounds to view infections in the gallbladder or ovaries
- MRI scans, which can identify soft tissue infections
There are two tools or sets of criteria, that are used to determine the severity of your condition. One is the systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS). SIRS is defined when you meet two or more of the following criteria:
- Fever of more than 100.4°F (38°C) or less than 96.8°F (36°C)
- The heart rate of more than 90 beats per minute
- Respiratory rate of more than 20 breaths per minute or arterial carbon dioxide tension (PaCO2) of less than 32 mm Hg
- Abnormal white blood cell count
Another tool is the quick sequential organ failure assessment (qSOFA). It uses the results of three criteria:
- Low blood pressure reading
- High respiratory rate (greater than 22 breaths per minute)
- Glasgow coma scale score of less than 15 (This scale is used to determine your level of consciousness.)
A positive qSOFA is determined if two or more of the above measurements are abnormal. Some physicians prefer using qSOFA because unlike the SIRS criteria, qSOFA doesn’t require laboratory tests. The results of either of these assessments will help your doctor determine care.
How is sepsis treated?
Sepsis can quickly progress to septic shock and death if it’s left untreated. Some Doctors medications used to treat sepsis, include;
- Antibiotics via IV to fight infection
- Vasoactive medications to increase blood pressure
- Insulin to stabilize blood sugar
- Corticosteroids to reduce inflammation
Severe sepsis may also require large amounts of IV fluids and a respirator for breathing. Dialysis might be necessary if the kidneys are affected. 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 the source of infection. This includes draining a pus-filled abscess or removing infected tissue.
Can you recover from sepsis?
Your recovery from sepsis depends on the severity of your condition and any preexisting conditions you might have. Many people who survive will recover completely. However, others will report lasting effects. The UK Sepsis Trust says it can take up to 18 months before survivors start to feel like their normal self. The Sepsis Alliance says that around 50 percent of sepsis survivors deal with post-sepsis syndrome (PSS). The alliance says this condition includes long-term effects such as:
- Damaged organs
- Disabling muscle and joint pains
- Poor concentration
- Lowered cognitive functioning
- Lowered self-esteem
Severe cases of sepsis can lead to death.
Taking steps to prevent the spread of infection can reduce your risk of developing sepsis. These include:
- Staying up to date on your vaccinations. Get vaccinated for the flu, pneumonia, and other infections.
- Practicing good hygiene. This means practicing proper wound care, handwashing, and bathing regularly.
- Getting immediate care if you develop signs of infection. Every minute counts when it comes to sepsis treatment. The sooner you get treatment, the better the outcome.