Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when the body's response to an infection damages its own tissues. When the infection-fighting processes turn on the body, they cause organs to function poorly and abnormally. In the community setting, sepsis often presents as the clinical deterioration of common and preventable infections. Sepsis also frequently results from infections acquired in health care settings, which are one of the most frequent adverse events during care delivery and affect hundreds of millions of patients worldwide every year.
Anyone with an infection who develops the following sepsis symptoms needs urgent medical attention:
- Fever, chills, and shivering
- Rapid pulse, also known as tachycardia
- Difficulty breathing
- Clammy or sweaty skin
- Extreme pain or discomfort
- Redness and swelling around a wound
Several factors increase the risk of sepsis, including:
- Older age
- Compromised immune system
- Chronic kidney or liver disease
- Admission to intensive care unit or longer hospital stays
- Invasive devices, such as intravenous catheters or breathing tubes
- Previous use of antibiotics or corticosteroids
Early, aggressive treatment increases the likelihood of recovery. People who have sepsis require close monitoring and treatment in a hospital intensive care unit. Lifesaving measures may be needed to stabilize breathing and heart function.
A number of medications are used in treating sepsis and septic shock. They include:
- Antibiotics: Treatment with antibiotics begins as soon as possible. Broad-spectrum antibiotics, which are effective against a variety of bacteria, are usually used first. After learning the results of blood tests, your doctor may switch to a different antibiotic that's targeted to fight the particular bacteria causing the infection.
- Intravenous fluids: The use of intravenous fluids begins as soon as possible.
- Vasopressors: If your blood pressure remains too low even after receiving intravenous fluids, you may be given a vasopressor medication. This drug constricts blood vessels and helps increase blood pressure.
- Other medications you may receive include low doses of corticosteroids, insulin to help maintain stable blood sugar levels, drugs that modify the immune system responses, and painkillers or sedatives.
People who have sepsis often receive supportive care that includes oxygen. Depending on your condition, you may need to have a machine help you breathe. If your kidneys have been affected, you may need to have dialysis.
Surgery may be needed to remove sources of infection, such as collections of pus (abscesses), infected tissues or dead tissues (gangrene).
Sepsis disproportionately affects vulnerable populations: newborns, pregnant women and people living in low-resource settings. Approximately 85.0% of sepsis cases and sepsis-related deaths occur in these settings.
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