Sepsis is an illness in which the body has a severe response to bacteria or other germs.
This response may be called systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS).
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
The symptoms of sepsis are not caused by the germs themselves. Instead, chemicals the body releases cause the response.
A bacterial infection anywhere in the body may set off the response that leads to sepsis. Common places where an infection might start include:
- The bloodstream
- The bones (common in children)
- The bowel (usually seen with
The kidneys (upper
urinary tract infectionor pyelonephritis)
The lining of the brain (meningitis)
The liver or gallbladder
The lungs (
The skin (
For patients in the hospital, common sites of infection include
In sepsis, blood pressure drops, resulting in
In general, symptoms of sepsis can include:
Confusionor delirium Feveror low body temperature (hypothermia)
- Light-headedness due to low blood pressure
- Warm skin
Bruising or bleeding may also occur.
Signs and tests
A person with sepsis will look very sick.
The infection is often confirmed by a blood test. However, a blood test may not reveal infection in people who have been receiving antibiotics. Some infections that can cause sepsis cannot be diagnosed by blood tests.
Other tests that may be done include:
- Blood gases
- Kidney function tests
- Platelet count and
fibrin degradation products, to check for bleeding risk White blood cell count
If you have sepsis, you will be admitted to a hospital, usually in the intensive care unit (ICU). Antibiotics are usually given through a vein (intravenously).
Oxygen and large amounts of fluids are given through a vein. Other medical treatments include:
- Medications that increase blood pressure
- Dialysis if there is kidney failure
- A breathing machine (mechanical ventilation) if there is lung failure
Sepsis is often life threatening, especially in people with a weakened immune system or a long-term (chronic) illness.
Damage caused by a drop in blood flow to vital organs such as the brain, heart, and kidneys may take time to improve. There may be long-term problems with these organs.
Not all patients survive an episode of sepsis.
The risk of sepsis can be reduced by following the recommended immunization schedule.
In the hospital, careful hand washing and proper care of urinary catheters and IV lines can help prevent infections that lead to sepsis.