Sometimes, an infection can lead to a potentially life-threatening condition called sepsis.
Normally, your immune system responds to an infection by releasing chemicals and proteins into your bloodstream to fight the destructive invader.
If the infection goes uncontrolled or your immune system overreacts, this can cause inflammation throughout your entire body. Severe sepsis can then start affecting your organs and potentially cause septic shock.
How Common Is Sepsis?
Sepsis is a global health concern. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are now nearly 50 million cases of sepsis per year globally, killing approximately 11 million and disabling millions more. And roughly half of those cases are children.
There are around 60 million deaths in total across the world.
It’s the leading cause of death in hospitals, accounting for 1 in 3 hospitalized patient deaths.
Signs and Symptoms of Sepsis
Early diagnosis of sepsis is critical, as the condition can progress quickly.
Symptoms of sepsis include:
- difficulty breathing
- extreme pain
- low blood pressure
- rapid heart rate
- sweaty skin
If you suspect sepsis, seek medical attention immediately.
Sepsis is a medical emergency that can rapidly progress from mild to life-threatening.
When it progresses to severe sepsis, the resulting organ failure can present with signs such as:
- abnormal heart function
- bluish discoloration of the skin (often in the lips, fingers, and toes)
- cognitive changes
- decreased urination
- difficulty breathing
- drop in body temperature (and chills)
- extreme weakness
- low platelet count
At this stage, septic shock may occur, which involves a significant drop in blood pressure, along with complications such as:
- organ failure or dysfunction
- respiratory or heart failure
- possible death
Treatment For Sepsis
Sepsis requires immediate medical attention. The goal of treatment is to manage the infection while supporting organ function.
Due to the seriousness of sepsis, the healthcare team will typically use several treatment strategies simultaneously. This may include:
- Corticosteroids – to reduce inflammation
- Insulin – to control blood glucose levels
- Intravenous (IV) antibiotics – to rapidly fight infection
- IV fluids – to restore hydration and nutrition
- Blood pressure medications – to support blood pressure and organ function
- Pain relievers – to ease pain and discomfort
- Respirator – to assist with breathing, if necessary
- Dialysis – to filter waste and toxins from the body, if kidney function is impaired
- Surgery – to remove the focus of infection (such as an abscess or infected tissues)
Treatment options vary depending on the patient’s age, condition, and risk factors.
With early diagnosis and treatment, sepsis can be effectively managed in most cases. But even in cases of recovery, patients may continue to experience long-term effects associated with post-sepsis syndrome.
Preventing sepsis means preventing infection in the first place.
You can do this by:
- Washing your hands regularly and thoroughly, especially before preparing food or eating
- Avoiding close contact with people who are sick
- Keeping cuts and scrapes clean and covered to prevent infection
- Avoiding contact with contaminated food or water
- Staying up to date on vaccinations for common infections
If you or someone you know is sick with a bacterial or viral infection, be aware of the signs and symptoms of sepsis and seek medical attention as soon as possible.