Things to know
- Sepsis occurs when your body’s immune system responds aggressively to an infection. It is a chain reaction in which your immune system, which is designed to protect against germs, attacks your body severely leading to inflammation and damage of tissues.
- Sepsis can occur in anyone suffering from any type of infection including COVID-19. It is more common in people who are hospitalised or are in ICUs.
- According to a study, there were nearly 48.9 million reported cases of sepsis infection, worldwide.
Sepsis is your body’s extreme response to an infection. It is a life-threatening condition that occurs when your body reacts dramatically to an infection. During sepsis, your immune system triggers a chain reaction in your body causing inflammation and tissue damage.
There are three stages of this condition – sepsis, severe sepsis and septic shock. Sepsis can further progress into a septic shock which includes a sudden and extreme drop in the blood pressure (considered dangerous) leading to organ failure.
All types of infections including infections of the urinary tract (kidney and bladder), lungs and COVID-19 can cause sepsis.
Sepsis develops from a confirmed infection. The following sepsis symptoms can appear in a patient:
- High heart rate
- Low blood pressure
- Fever and chills
- Mental confusion and disorientation
- Shortness of breath
- Extreme pain and discomfort in the body
- Excessive sweating
- Low body temperature
- Decreased urine output
- Discoloured skin
Most of the above-given symptoms require urgent medical management.
Primarily, any type of infection, whether it is fungal, parasitic, viral or bacterial can lead to an extreme reaction of the body. However, in most cases, a bacterial infection leads to sepsis. Common sepsis causes include:
- Lung infections like pneumonia
- Urinary tract infections
- Infection of the digestive system
- Infections of the bloodstream (bacteremia)
- Catheter sites
- Wounds or burns
Who gets sepsis?
Anyone who is suffering from infection is susceptible to developing sepsis. However, some individuals and groups have a higher risk of getting this condition. Common risk factors include:
- Advanced age (65+ years age)
- Infancy (children younger than 1)
- A weakened or compromised immune system
- People with chronic medical conditions like diabetes, kidney or liver disease
- Extended hospitalisation
- Admission to intensive care unit (ICU)
- Use of invasive devices like catheters
There is a wide range of tests and scans done to identify underlying infections. Common tests performed for sepsis diagnosis include:
Blood testing detects the following:
- Type of infection
- Unusual white blood cell count
- High levels of acid in the blood
- Blood clotting issues
- Abnormal organ function (kidney or liver)
- Impaired oxygen levels
- Uneven electrolyte levels
Besides blood sampling, other tests that are done for sepsis diagnosis include urine tests, wound secretions and respiratory secretions.
The following imaging tests help in the identification of the site of infection.
- CT scans
Since sepsis infection is a life-threatening medical emergency, it requires urgent intervention to manage it at the right time. Mostly, people in intensive care units (ICUs) develop sepsis infection and require close observation.
For sepsis treatment, your healthcare provider will aim to stabilise your health and symptoms. You will be given medication to treat the infection (antiviral, antifungal or antibacterial medicines), intravenous fluids and vasopressors. You will also be given medicines to boost the response of the immune system and insulin to stabilize blood sugar levels.
Sometimes, your doctor may suggest surgical treatment to remove the source of infection such as dead tissues or pus.
Sepsis requires immediate clinical care. If not addressed timely and properly, sepsis can cause the following problems:
- Kidney failure
- Dead tissues on fingers and toes, requiring amputation
- Organ damage (to the lungs, brain or heart)
- Increased risk of infections in future
The key to preventing sepsis infection is to prevent the underlying infection itself. You can practice the following measures to reduce your risk of developing an infection and avoid it from progressing into sepsis.
- Get vaccinated for common infections
- Wash your hands with soap or use alcohol-based hand rub frequently
- Maintain social distancing and curb the spread of airborne infections
- Practice good hygiene and sanitize high-touch surfaces
- Seek timely medical treatment
Sepsis can be effectively cured if identified and treated early. Timely intervention is the key to treating sepsis infection.
Sepsis is a progressive condition. There are three stages of sepsis that it evolves in, if not heeded timely. These are sepsis infection, severe sepsis and septic infection.
Sepsis can occur from any kind of infection including COVID19. However, a bacterial infection is the most common cause of sepsis.
Early signs of sepsis include mental confusion or disorientation, breathlessness, rapid heartbeat, fever and feeling cold, extreme pain and excess sweating.
No, sepsis cannot go away on its own. It requires timely medical management.
Sepsis occurs when your body’s immune system reacts abnormally and extremely to an infection.