Sepsis is a life-threatening condition which occurs when the body is affected by a severe infection. The body releases chemicals in the body which leads to inflammation over the entire body. This condition is also referred to as systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS). Children and people with a compromised immune system are at a higher risk of developing this condition. At times, septic children suffer from osteomyelitis (bone infection); whereas in adults, it may lead to meningitis.
This condition can be caused due to internal or external infection. In the former case, sepsis results from diseases such as pneumonia, cancer, and AIDS. In the latter case, the organisms enter the body via open wounds and/or cuts, and then enter the lungs, liver, gallbladder, kidney, and intestine. Once the microorganisms enter the human body, they have the potential to spread to other parts of the body via blood circulation. The condition is caused due to pneumonia, blood infection, kidney infection, complicated surgeries and treatment, etc.
The symptoms may vary depending upon the severity of the infection. The symptoms are observed as a result of the body's own response, or the toxic products generated by the microorganisms. The most noticeable signs of sepsis are low blood pressure and increase in heartbeats (tachycardia) or breathing rate.
- Very low or high body temperature
- Skin rash
- Joint pain
- Low urine output
- Confusion and disorientation
- Septic shock (state of low blood pressure)
Among these symptoms, septic shock is considered to be a lethal condition, accounting for about 40-50 % deaths of patients with an underlying health condition. Multiple organ failure is one of the most severe complication of sepsis. On an average, 15 % of septic patients die of other complications.
Diagnosis is based on the physical examination, medical conditions (if any), and medical history of the patient. For confirmation, the physician may conduct certain laboratory tests such as blood tests and culture, urine and stool analysis, kidney function test, white blood cell count, and peripheral smear. The blood sample of a septic patient may have a low platelet count, excess amount of immature white blood cells, and fibrin degradation products.
This condition should be treated as early as possible to avoid further complications. Treatment of a septic patient is undertaken in an intensive care unit (ICU) with lifesaving equipment. The patient is closely monitored so as to notice any vital changes. Usually, broad-spectrum antibiotics are administered intravenously even before identification of the causal organism. Once the patient has stabilized, the doctor may conduct certain tests to identify the bacteria responsible for the infection and the affected organs.
After this, the physician may prescribe certain medications such as specific antibiotics and vasopressors (to stabilize blood pressure). Another innovative medication for severe sepsis treatment is activated protein C, which helps in controlling the body's autoimmune responses. The side effect of this drug is that it may cause severe bleeding. Other medications may include over-the-counter pain killers, corticosteroids, and insulin.