If you’ve been hospitalized with a serious illness or for a medical procedure, your medical team was watching you closely for signs of infection.
Infections that occur in the hospital can lead to many harmful conditions. Sepsis is among the most serious of these.
What Is Sepsis?
Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that results from an infection in your body.
If your body is working hard to fight an infection, your immune system may release infection-fighting chemicals into your bloodstream, causing inflammation throughout your body.
Sometimes this infection response causes harm to your own organs — leading to sepsis, which is defined as an infection with organ stress or failure.
In the worst cases, your circulation is affected. This is called septic shock, which is when your blood pressure drops to life-threatening levels and doesn’t respond to fluid treatment. Septic shock is fatal in up to 50 percent of patients who experience it.
According to the National Institutes of Health, more than one million Americans are diagnosed with sepsis each year.
Causes of Sepsis
Any infection in your body can lead to sepsis, though most infections clear up when quickly and properly treated.
Lung, blood, kidney, and abdominal infections are more likely to cause sepsis. Although sepsis is not contagious, some infectious illnesses can result in sepsis.
Sepsis can be difficult to diagnose in its early stages, as the symptoms can be similar to other conditions.
Doctors look for two or more of the following symptoms before diagnosing sepsis:
- Heart rate above 90 beats per minute
- Breathing rate above 22 breaths per minute
- An existing infection
- Body temperature above 101 degrees Fahrenheit or below 96.8 degrees Fahrenheit
If you have any of these sepsis symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
When sepsis progresses to severe sepsis, organs in your body can start to fail. A severe sepsis diagnosis requires one or more of the following symptoms:
- Changes in mental status, such as agitation, disorientation, etc.
- Skin discoloration
- Trouble breathing
- Abnormal heart rate
- Decreased urination
- Extreme weakness or unconsciousness
- Low platelet count
Sepsis Treatment: Learning About Your Care Options
When sepsis is detected, doctors work quickly to treat the infection . They may use any of the following treatments, depending on your specific case:
- Intravenous antibiotics
- Intravenous fluids to help correct blood pressure
- Insulin to stabilize blood sugar
If you have a case of severe sepsis or septic shock, it may require life-saving measures. Oxygen may help, and you could be placed on a respirator to assist with breathing.
In some cases, sepsis interferes with kidney function, which means your kidneys may not be filtering toxins from your body. Dialysis, or filtering blood to remove toxins, can help do the job instead.
Finally, depending on the type of infection, surgery may be required to remove the source of the infection.
Some people who have had sepsis experience complications after being released from the hospital. If that happens to you, talk to your doctor about ways to relieve any remaining symptoms.
The sooner you are treated for sepsis, the greater your likelihood of survival. However, survival rates also depend on the cause of sepsis, pre-existing conditions, and your overall health.
Risk Factors for Sepsis
People with a greater risk for sepsis include:
- Newborn babies, especially those who are premature or have a low birth weight
- Those older than 65, especially if they have chronic illness like diabetes or high blood pressure
- People with diseases that weaken their immune system, such as HIV/AIDS or cancer
- Patients being treated in an intensive care unit
- Patients with feeding tubes or breathing tubes
You can reduce your risk of infection and developing sepsis through good hygiene and staying up to date on vaccinations. If you have an infection that’s not getting better or is getting worse, seek immediate medical care. Being aware of and alert to the symptoms of sepsis could save your life.