Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening condition that develops when an existing infection triggers an extreme immune system response in the body. Sepsis occurs when the response of the immune system to an infection or disease is out of control, thereby causing extensive inflammation in the body.
Sepsis spreads within a person’s body from the original tissue or organ (source) where the infection originated from to other organs through the bloodstream. Sepsis is not contagious but the causative organism responsible for the infection such as in cases like viral pneumonia or COVID-19 can be contagious.
Stages of Sepsis
There are three stages of sepsis, they include:
- Sepsis: This is when the infection gets into the bloodstream and causes inflammation in the body.
- Severe sepsis: This is when the infection and inflammation are severe enough to start affecting organ function.
- Septic shock: Septic shock is a severe complication of sepsis that causes organ failure and a significant drop in blood pressure.
Causes of Sepsis
Sepsis is mostly caused by bacterial infections although; they can also be caused by viral or fungal infections. Infections that have a high probability of resulting in sepsis if not properly managed include:
- Abdominal infections e.g. Appendicitis, Peritonitis
- Kidney infections
- Lungs infection e.g. Pneumonia
- Blood infection (bacteremia)
- Wounds or burns
Risk Factors of Sepsis
Many factors put an individual at risk of sepsis. They include:
- Chronic kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Older age
- Suppressed immunity e.g. People with HIV or undergoing Chemotherapy treatment for cancer
- Resistance to antibiotics
- Use of invasive devices such as catheters
- Diabetes mellitus
Signs and Symptoms of Sepsis
The signs and symptoms of sepsis depend on the stage of sepsis.
Signs and Symptoms of Sepsis include:
- High body temperature (Fever)
- Fast heart rate
- Low blood pressure
- Sweaty skin
Signs and Symptoms of Severe Sepsis include:
- Deteriorating organ function
- Extreme body weakness
- Difficulty breathing
- Abnormal heart rhythm
- Decreased urination
- Confusion or disorientation
- Pale skin
Signs and Symptoms of Septic shock (Septicemia) include:
- Organ failure
- High levels of lactic acid in the blood
- Low blood pressure (Hypotension)
Diagnosis of Sepsis
Blood tests and other laboratory investigations can be carried out to diagnose the severity of sepsis and also identify the cause of infection. Laboratory investigations include:
- Blood Tests: Blood samples are collected and tested for signs of infection, blood clotting disorder, kidney function, liver function, and decreased amount of oxygen and electrolyte imbalance.
- Urine Test: This can be carried out to identify the source of infection.
- Wound or Respiration Secretions Test: This test can be carried out to confirm the cause of infection.
- X-ray: Chest x-ray can be done to identify lung infection.
- Ultrasound: This can be done to identify the presence of infection in the gallbladder, kidneys, or ovaries.
- Computerized Tomography (CT scans): This can be carried out to view infections in the liver, pancreas, appendix, or bowel area. Abdominal organs can be easily seen on CT scans.
Management of Sepsis
Early and adequate management of sepsis increases the chances of survival. Medical, surgical, and supportive care may be required in the management of sepsis.
- Medical Management of Sepsis: Medications are prescribed in the treatment of sepsis. Broad-spectrum antibiotics are usually used against a variety of bacteria. Certain antibiotics may also be prescribed based on results from laboratory investigations. Intravenous fluids may also be recommended in the management of sepsis. Vasopressors e.g. Epinephrine may also be prescribed to increase blood pressure.
- Supportive Management of Sepsis: Oxygen therapy, dialysis, nutritional management, and other lifestyle modifications may be recommended for an individual with sepsis depending on the cause and stage of sepsis.
- Surgical Management of Sepsis: Surgery may be required to get rid of the source of infection and infected or dead tissue/organ.
Prevention of Sepsis
Sepsis and other infections can be prevented by following the following precautions:
- Ensure adequate hand hygiene practices.
- Stay up to date on recommended vaccinations.
- Keep distance from strangers and any suspected case of infection.
- Avoid unnecessary travel and gatherings.
- Always wear a mask for protection from respiratory infections.
- Ensure regular medical checkups and seek medical care if any sign of infection is noticed.
Complications of Sepsis
While many people may recover from mild cases of sepsis, severe cases of sepsis and septic shock can lead to complications in an individual. Complications include:
- Abnormal blood clotting or burst blood vessels
- Tissue death (gangrene)
- Lung damage
- Organ failure e.g. Kidney failure
- Permanent brain damage
- Damage to the heart valves can lead to heart failure.