Our body is blessed with its own defence mechanism called the Immune System, which protects the body by releasing some chemicals into blood to fight back infections. These chemicals, meant to combat infections, can sometimes go in to an overdrive, triggering widespread inflammation, blood clots, and leaky blood vessels. This condition is known as sepsis.
Sepsis is a serious bloodstream infection which impairs the blood flow, and that deprives organs of nutrients and oxygen causing the organ damage. The condition is seen to have 3 stages – sepsis, severe sepsis, and septic shock. In septic shocks, blood pressure typically drops and multiple organs may fail (e.g. lungs, kidneys, liver).
Any infection can trigger sepsis. It often occurs unpredictably and can progress rapidly. Potentially life-threatening, septic shock has close to 50% mortality. Pneumonia, blood & kidney infections, burns, and wounds are amongst the common causes leading to sepsis. One must carefully watch for symptoms if affected by any infection.
The development of Sepsis is swift. The most common initial symptoms are:
- High fever, or lower than normal temperature
- Inflammation of the body
- High heart rate
- Painful bowel movements
- Pain or discomfort during intercourse
- Bleeding between periods
Severe sepsis can show up as:
- Discoloration of skin/ rashes
- Confusion or incoherent thinking
- Nausea and vomiting
- Reduced urine quantity
- Abnormal breathing and heart functions
Anyone in septic shock is likely to have all or any of these conditions, together with the significant drop in blood pressure.
Diagnosing septicaemia is difficult. Diagnosis will usually follow a wide range of tests.
- Physical examination to find out about low blood pressure or body temperature
- The doctor may also look for conditions like pneumonia, meningitis, and cellulitis
- Urine culture
- Wound secretions and skin sores
- Respiratory Secretions
- Cerebrospinal fluid culture
- Blood test (cell and platelet counts to find out the blood clotting)
- The oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood
- X-ray, MRI, CT scan or Ultrasound
The treatment will depend on several factors, including age, overall health, and condition and drug allergy. Initial treatment will usually use “broad-spectrum” antibiotics. Giving Oxygen is called for in many cases to overcome breathlessness. Sepsis can be treated effectively with antibiotics if diagnosed early.
The prevention of bacterial infection is the best way to avoid sepsis. And people with a fragile immune system should take the following precautions:
- Stop smoking
- Avoid illegal drugs
- Switch to a healthy diet
- Regular exercise
- Personal hygiene
- Immunization with flu and pneumonia vaccines
Risks for sepsis are the highest when:
- having severe wounds or burns
- very young or very old
- having a urinary or intravenous catheter
- on ventilation
- having low immunity, like after chemotherapy or steroid injections
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