Sepsis is a potentially fatal condition that occurs when your body rejects an infection. When you get an infection, your immune system can go into overdrive, protecting you from many illnesses and infections.
The condition occurs when chemicals released into the bloodstream by the immune system to combat an infection instead cause inflammation throughout the body. Severe cases of sepsis can cause septic shock, which is an emergency medical condition.
What Causes Sepsis?
Sepsis is most often caused by bacterial infections. Infections such as fungal, parasitic, or viral infections can also cause sepsis. An infection can originate from anywhere in the body. Here are some of the common sites and types of infections that can lead to sepsis:
- The central nervous system: Infections of the brain or the spinal cord.
- The lungs: Infections such as pneumonia.
- The abdomen: An infection of the appendix, bowel problems, infection of the abdominal cavity, and gallbladder or liver infections.
- The urinary tract (kidneys or bladder): Urinary tract infections are especially likely if the patient has a urinary catheter to drain urine.
- The skin: Bacteria can enter the skin through wounds or skin inflammation, or through the openings made with intravenous catheters. Conditions such as cellulitis can also cause sepsis.
Symptoms of Sepsis
Sepsis can cause many different symptoms because it can originate in different parts of the body. Initial symptoms may include rapid breathing and confusion. The following symptoms may also occur:
- Very low body temperature
- Fever and chills
- Fast heartbeat
- Peeing less than usual
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blotchy or discolored skin
- Fatigue or weakness
- Severe pain
- Sweating or clammy skin
Treatment for Sepsis
The treatment of sepsis involves a variety of medications. They include:
- Intravenous fluids: Intravenous fluids are administered as soon as possible.
- Vasopressors: You may be prescribed a vasopressor medication if your blood pressure remains too low even after receiving intravenous fluids. The drug constricts blood vessels and raises blood pressure.
- Antibiotics: A course of antibiotics should begin immediately. Antibiotics with broad-spectrum activity are usually used first, as they are effective against a wide range of bacteria. After reviewing the blood test results, your doctor may switch to a different antibiotic that is designed to target the bacterium causing the infection.
Other medications you might be prescribed include corticosteroids, insulin to control your blood sugar, immune-modulating drugs, painkillers, and sedatives.
In addition, people with Sepsis often receive supportive care that includes oxygen. Depending on your condition, you may need to have a machine to help you breathe. If your kidneys are affected, you may also need to have dialysis.
Prevention of Sepsis
Preventing infection is the best way to prevent sepsis. Take these steps:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds each time.
- Keep control of any chronic health conditions.
- Keep up with recommended vaccines for things like flu and chickenpox.
- Treat any infections. Get medical care right away if they don’t get better or if they seem like they’re getting worse.
- If you have an injury that’s broken your skin, clean it as soon as possible. Keep it clean and covered as it heals, and watch for signs of infection.