Sepsis, also known as septicemia, is when bacteria invade the bloodstream and cause your body to attack itself. Although there are several types of sepsis, they all result in similar symptoms and can quickly lead to serious complications if not treated immediately, so it’s important to know the warning signs that you may be suffering from this life-threatening condition and seek medical attention right away if you think you have it. We’ll take an in-depth look at what sepsis is, what causes it, and how best to prevent and treat it.
Definition of Sepsis
A potentially life-threatening whole-body inflammatory response triggered by an infection. During sepsis white blood cells rush to areas of infection and release inflammatory mediators, in order to fight off any potential pathogens. This systemic reaction can lead to organ failure, shock, and death.
Sepsis, or septicemia, is a medical condition in which bacteria or other harmful microbes enter a person’s bloodstream. It can be life-threatening, and if it is not quickly treated it can lead to multiple organ failures. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that over 1 million people have been diagnosed with sepsis each year since 2008. The CDC also reports that an estimated 26 percent of all deaths caused by sepsis happen before a patient even reaches an emergency room. There’s no question that it’s important to know what you should do if you suspect your loved one has contracted sepsis.
Signs and Symptoms
Although sepsis is a serious medical condition, it can be treated with antibiotics and fluids. But because early symptoms can mimic those of other diseases (like flu, for example),
it’s important to get immediate medical care if you think you or someone in your family may have sepsis. Among its telltale signs: are changes in heart rate or breathing patterns, skin that appears dusky or bluish around the lips, fever, and chills, low blood pressure or fast heart rate, and a headache that does not go away.
If you think someone has sepsis call 911 right away—do not wait! Remembering these symptoms could save your life.
If you’re on medications that slow your breathing, get help immediately. Don’t try to drive yourself to an emergency room if you suspect sepsis. Call 911 or send someone else for help right away. The first thing a doctor will do is give you antibiotics and fluids through an IV.
If a bacterial infection is causing sepsis, antibiotics can be very effective in stopping further damage and reversing some damage that has already occurred. Typically, it takes around 12 hours after starting antibiotics for symptoms to improve substantially, but it may take up to 24 hours or longer before all signs and symptoms disappear completely.
What are the 3 Stages of Sepsis?
After knowing what sepsis is, we should also know its three stages:
- Severe sepsis
- Septic shock
Causes of Sepsis
Frequently, people with sepsis also have a urinary tract infection or other condition that may have caused them to become more susceptible to sepsis. The following conditions may increase a person’s risk for developing sepsis: ulcers in their stomach or intestine, liver disease (such as cirrhosis), burns and scalds, trauma to their body (such as a car accident or surgery), cancer and weakened immune systems.
Those who had recently been admitted into an intensive care unit (ICU) were also at an increased risk of developing sepsis during their hospital stay. Sepsis may occur when bacteria enter through a person’s skin, lungs or urinary tract and spread throughout their body.
Common bacteria that can cause sepsis include Streptococcus species, group A β-hemolytic (GABHS), including Streptococcus pyogenes or Strep, Escherichia coli (E. coli), and certain types of Klebsiella.
Other possible causes may include viral infections and fungal infections. These infections may start as pneumonia, skin injuries or urinary tract infections but when not properly treated, they can cause sepsis in some cases. It’s important to note that not everyone who has these types of infection will develop sepsis. In fact, many will be able to fight off any bacteria or viruses with their immune system without developing sepsis at all.
If sepsis is suspected, treatment should begin immediately. In cases of severe sepsis or septic shock, it is imperative that people receive intravenous antibiotics as soon as possible, according to a 2007 study in Critical Care Medicine. Patients who have both severe sepsis and septic shock can also be given IV fluids and oxygen.
In more serious cases, patients may need to be placed on mechanical ventilation via tracheal intubation or they may need cardiac assist devices (i.e., ECMO) until their sepsis symptoms resolve.
Note that most cases of suspected sepsis should not be treated with antibiotics. It is common for people to assume they have a bacterial infection when they don’t, and it may actually be a viral or fungal infection. The antibiotic Ciprofloxacin has been shown to reduce mortality in patients with severe sepsis and septic shock but is associated with increased risks, such as QT prolongation, which can lead to deadly cardiac arrhythmias.
If you think you have symptoms of sepsis—especially if you exhibit any respiratory or cardiovascular signs—seek emergency medical treatment immediately and take every precaution to ensure your safety until help arrives.
Most people have heard that sepsis is a serious condition, but what most don’t know is just how wide-ranging its symptoms can be. Generally speaking, sepsis occurs when your body has an infection; however, the fact that your immune system recognizes it as an infection doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll exhibit all or even any typical signs and symptoms. As it turns out, sepsis may present itself in a number of ways—with some more concerning than others.