Septic shock is a life-threatening complication of a blood infection. Since it can affect any organ of the body, and may produce systemic inflammatory response, it requires immediate medical attention. The following write-up provides information on its causes, symptoms, and treatment.
The term ‘sepsis’ refers to a complication of a severe infection of the blood that is caused by infectious agents like bacteria, viruses, fungi or other microorganisms. Those who have a compromised immune system are at a greater risk of suffering from sepsis. At times, the immune system responds to an infection by triggering inflammation in the whole body. When small blood clots form within the blood vessels due to inflammation, supply of oxygen to the different tissues and organs diminishes, which can eventually lead to a life-threatening condition called septic shock.
People at Risk
When the immune system of the body is strong, the infection caused by such microbes usually does not spread to the bloodstream, but when the immune system is weakened due to a chronic illness, such an infection can spread to the bloodstream. Thus, a localized infection of an organ can ultimately become a systemic infection. When the infectious agents make their way to the bloodstream, it results in sepsis. Here are certain diseases that may put people at a greater risk of developing this condition.
- Urinary tract infection
- Abdominal infection
- Kidney infection
People who may come under the high-risk group also include those who have undergone surgery recently. Those who are undergoing chemotherapy may also be susceptible. Prolonged use of antibiotics, organ transplantation and recent use of certain steroid medications may also put one at a risk.
Septic shock is characterized by decreased tissue perfusion, and decreased supply of oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, which results in multiple organ dysfunction or failure. The most commonly observed symptoms are as follows:
- Fever, accompanied by chills and shivering
- Increased heart rate and palpitation
- Rapid breathing rate
- Flushed skin
- Skin rash or small dark, red spots all over the body
- Joint pain
- Little or no urine
- Low blood pressure
- Cool and pale extremities of the body
- Shortness of breath
In later stages, these symptoms can become more severe in nature, and the body temperature of the patient falls below normal. The tissues in organs like liver, kidneys, and intestines begin to die and the skin turns blue due to lack of oxygen, and the individual finds it increasingly difficult to breathe.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Tests: This condition is diagnosed with the help of blood test and blood culture to look for the presence of infectious agents, the level of oxygen and the count of white blood cells. Additionally, urine, sputum and spinal fluid of the patients are also tested to diagnose the condition. Chest X-ray and CT scan can help to detect infection of other organs.
Treatment Options: Immediate treatment involves mechanical ventilation or oxygen administration with the help of breathing machine, administration of antibiotics, intravenous administration of fluid, and medications that can raise blood pressure. Sometimes, physicians can also give drotrecogin alfa (activated protein C), which can treat both inflammation and blood clotting. This drug is usually given in severe cases in the event of failure of major organs. In certain cases, surgery may have to be performed to remove dead or infected tissue and to drain excess abscess. The death of tissue may cause gangrene, a rare but severe complication, in which case amputating the affected limb(s) might be necessary.
The effectiveness of the treatment depends to a great extent on the prompt diagnosis and treatment of the condition. Therefore, a proper understanding about septic shock symptoms and causes is very important. Generally, the chances of recovery for people with serious underlying medical condition like cancer and HIV/AIDS is comparatively less. Therefore, the underlying health conditions as well as age of the affected individuals can be some of the important factors that determine the chances of recovery.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.