When you develop an infection, the body will typically release chemicals into the bloodstream to try and help fight it. However, when your body’s response to those chemicals is out of balance, you can develop a serious and potentially life-threatening condition known as sepsis. If not treated in a timely manner, sepsis can result in everything from tissue damage to organ failure, and even death.
As mentioned, sepsis is triggered by an infection, but it is more commonly associated with certain types of infections such as pneumonia, kidney infections, abdominal infections, and infections of the bloodstream.
There are three different stages of sepsis:
• Severe sepsis
• Septic shock
In order to be diagnosed with sepsis, you must have at least two of the following symptoms:
• A fever greater than 101ºF (38ºC)
• A temperature below 96.8ºF (36ºC)
• Increased breathing rate
• A probable or confirmed infection
When you develop severe sepsis, organ failure is also typically involved. In addition, you might also have other symptoms associated with severe sepsis such as low platelet count, discoloured skin, decreased urination, abnormal heart function, trouble breathing, chills, weakness, changes in mental ability, and in some cases unconsciousness.
When you go into septic shock, you will typically experience several of the symptoms associated with severe sepsis in addition to a significant drop in your blood pressure which can also lead to things like stroke, heart failure, as well as failure of other organs – all of which can be fatal.
While it’s possible for anyone to develop sepsis, the following are at greater risk:
• Those with weakened immune systems
• Those who are being treated in hospital, such as in an intensive care unit (ICU)
• Those who have an intravenous catheter
• Those who have a breathing tube
In cases where a newborn develops sepsis, this is known as neonatal sepsis. Babies that are born prematurely or have a low birth weight are also susceptible to developing late onset sepsis. In newborns, symptoms of sepsis can oftentimes be non-specific, but some signs to watch out for include fever, pale appearance to the skin, yellowing of the skin and/or eyes (also known as jaundice), low body temperature, vomiting, and diarrhea.
In order to accurately diagnosis sepsis, your doctor will order a blood test. A blood test is done to check for things like infection, clotting problems, liver and kidney function, electrolytes, and even oxygen. In addition to blood tests, your doctor will also likely order other diagnostic tests, such as medical imaging tests like X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans or ultrasounds to help determine the source of your infection, as well as urine, wound and mucus secretion tests. If you are determined to have sepsis, a number of medications are involved to treat it – such as antibiotics administered via IV, medications to help increase blood pressure, insulin to get blood sugar levels stabilized, as well as corticosteroids to reduce inflammation.