It may be one of the more common emergency medical conditions you’ve never heard of: sepsis. Sepsis is a clinical syndrome caused by an abnormal inflammatory response associated with infection. Sepsis is an extremely dangerous condition with an alarmingly high death rate, ranging from 10% to 50% depending on the severity. More than one million people each year are diagnosed with severe sepsis. Children and the elderly are at the greatest risk from developing sepsis, as are chronically ill patients. However, anyone with an infection can develop sepsis.
The medical concept of sepsis has been around for ages. The word sepsis is derived from the Greek word ‘sipsi,’ which means ‘to make rotten.’ The earliest concept of sepsis was developed by an Obstetrician in the 1800s while studying the reason for high death rates in women after childbirth. Not long after, a French chemist by the name of Louis Pasteur discovered that pesky single celled organisms called bacteria. It was discovered that sepsis was a condition that occurs when bacteria invades the bloodstream. It is because of this basic knowledge that now mothers everywhere have come to appreciate the value of antiseptics, like Neosporin, and Band-Aids!
With sepsis, the immune system creates chemicals to fight infection in the bloodstream. The chemicals created by the immune system cause inflammation throughout the entire body. Unfortunately, this inflammatory response can lead to the dysfunction of vital organs such as the heart, brain, lungs, and kidneys. “Basically, sepsis is the body’s overwhelming response to an infection in the blood,” says Dr. Robert Holland, Medical Director and Emergency Physician at The Colony ER Hospital. “How we treat sepsis today is a lot different than hundreds of years ago. Sepsis is actually a lot more common than people think. When a patient goes into septic shock, the body’s blood pressure plummets, and this can lead to heart failure, respiratory failure, stroke or even death.”
Any infection has the ability to cause sepsis. Most cases of sepsis occur as a complication of pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and abdominal infections. However, skin infections can also cause sepsis, which is why it is so important to treat and dress wounds properly.
Identifying early sepsis can be challenging. Symptoms such as fever, chills, body aches, rapid heart rate and excessive sweating are not uncommon with many infections, and are especially common with illness caused by the influenza virus. This can make identifying a septic infection difficult. However, infectious symptoms that appear to be progressing or not resolving, could indicate a more serious illness. Associated symptoms such as severe generalized weakness, shortness of breath (rapid breathing), dizziness or feeling faint, are much more ominous and can be an indication of sepsis. Early identification and rapid treatment of sepsis is critical.
Ultimately, if in doubt, get checked out!
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