SEPSIS

SEPSIS, SEVERE SEPSIS AND SEPTIC SHOCK 

 

Sepsis, severe sepsis, and septic shock describe the body’s harmful systemic responses to infection.  It is a life-threatening medical emergency. Sepsis happens when an infection you already have triggered a chain reaction throughout your body. Without timely treatment, sepsis can rapidly lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death. 

Almost any type of infection can lead to sepsis. Infections that lead to sepsis most often start in the lung, urinary tract, skin, or gastrointestinal tract. 

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WHAT CAUSES SEPSIS? 

While any type of infection — bacterial, viral or fungal — can lead to sepsis, infections that more commonly result in sepsis include infections of: 

  • Lungs, such as pneumonia 

  • Kidney, bladder, and other parts of the urinary system 

  • Digestive system 

  • Bloodstream (bacteremia) 

  • Catheter sites 

  • Wounds or burns 

There are three stages of sepsis: sepsis, severe sepsis, and septic shock. Sepsis can happen while you are still in the hospital recovering from a procedure, but this is not always the case. It is 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. 

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF SEPSIS?  

 

Symptoms of sepsis include: 

 

Sepsis

 

  • 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 diagnosis is made. 

 

Severe sepsis 

 

Severe sepsis occurs when there is organ failure. You must have one or more of the following signs to be diagnosed with severe sepsis: 

 

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  • patches of discolored skin 

  • decreased urination 

  • changes in mental ability 

  • low platelet (blood clotting cells) count 

  • problems breathing 

  • abnormal heart functions 

  • chills due to fall in body temperature 

  • unconsciousness 

  • extreme weakness 

 

Septic shock 

 

Symptoms of septic shock include the  

symptoms of severe sepsis, plus very low blood pressure.

TRANSMISSION  

 

Sepsis is not contagious. However, the pathogens that caused the original infection that led to sepsis can be contagious. Bacterial infections cause most cases of sepsis. Sepsis can also be a result of other infections, including viral infections, such as COVID-19 or influenza. Sepsis spreads within a person’s body from the original source of infection to other organs through the bloodstream. 

 

DOES CANCER PUT ME AT RISK FOR SEPSIS?  

 

Yes. Having cancer and undergoing certain treatments for cancer, such as chemotherapy, can put you at higher risk of developing an infection, and infections can lead to sepsis. 

Chemotherapy works by killing the fastest-growing cells in your body—both good and bad. This means that along with killing cancer cells, chemo also kills your infection-fighting white blood cells. 

 
 
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WHEN AM I MORE LIKELY TO GET AN INFECTION?  

 

Infection or sepsis can happen at any time. However, when your body has very low levels of a certain type of white blood cell (neutrophils) that increases your risk of getting an infection. This condition is a common side effect of chemo called neutropenia. 

HOW WILL I KNOW IF I HAVE NEUTROPENIA?  

 

Your provider will routinely test for neutropenia by checking the level of your white blood cells. 

 

HOW CAN I PREVENT AN INFECTION?  

 

  • Wash your hands often and ask others around you to do the same. 

  • Avoid crowded places and people who are sick. 

  • Talk to your doctor about getting a flu shot or other vaccinations. 

  • Take a bath or shower every day (unless told otherwise). 

  • Use an unscented lotion to try to keep your skin from getting dry or cracked. 

  • Clean your teeth and gums with a soft toothbrush. 

  • Use a mouthwash to prevent mouth sores (if your doctor recommends one). 

  • Do not share food, drink cups, utensils, or other personal items, such as toothbrushes. 

  • Cook meat and eggs all the way through to kill any germs. 

  • Carefully wash raw fruits and vegetables. 

  • Protect your skin from direct contact with pet bodily waste (urine or feces). 

  • Wash your hands immediately after touching an animal or removing its waste, even after wearing gloves. 

  • Use gloves for gardening. 

 

HOW IS SEPSIS DIAGNOSED?  

 

If you have symptoms of sepsis, our specialists will order tests to make a diagnosis and determine the severity of your infection. One of the first tests is a blood test. Your blood is checked for complications like: 

  • infection 

  • 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, our specialists may order other tests, including: 

  • 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 our specialists cannot determine the source of infection using the above tests, they may order an internal view of your body using one of the following: 

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  • 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 

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HOW IS SEPSIS TREATED?  

 

Sepsis can quickly progress to septic shock and death if it’s left untreated. Doctors use a number of medications to treat sepsis, including: 

  • antibiotics via IV to fight infection 

  • vasoactive medications to increase blood pressure 

  • insulin to stabilize blood sugar 

  • corticosteroids to reduce inflammation 

  • painkillers 

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. 

 

SEPSIS PREVENTION 

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. 

 

OUTLOOK  

It’s important to remember that sepsis is a medical emergency. Every minute and hour counts, especially since the infection can spread quickly. There’s no one symptom of sepsis, but rather it has a combination of symptoms. Get immediate medical attention if you suspect that you have sepsis, especially if you have a known infection.