Sepsis Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

What are sepsis symptoms? 

Sepsis is a condition where an infection enters your blood and causes your body to have an overwhelming response to it. The infection is able to quickly travel all over your body and your immune system works over time to try to control it.

Sepsis has four main symptoms. The four main symptoms are:

  1. High fever (or abnormally low temperature)
  2. Rapid rate of breathing,
  3. Increased heart rate,
  4. Elevated WBC (white blood cell count)

Two of these four symptoms plus a source of infection meets the definition of sepsis. The symptoms of severe sepsis are more extreme and include extreme weakness, problems breathing, unconsciousness, chills, decreased urination, and organ failure. When left untreated, the body can enter septic shock, which couples all the above symptoms with dangerously low blood pressure.

How is sepsis diagnosed?

Sepsis can be difficult to diagnose but frequently needs rapid treatment to contain the infection and prevent progression into septic shock. An individual must present with at least two of the following four symptoms coupled with an existing infection somewhere in the body.

Blood tests may categorize the infection as either severe sepsis (more significant than simple sepsis) or septic shock (the most severe form of sepsis). Treatment of antibiotics and IV fluids may begin before results of the work up to prevent worsening of sepsis during definitive diagnosis occurs.

How sepsis is treated?

There are two main treatments of sepsis. As sepsis is usually a bacterial (vs a viral infection), antibiotics are the first line of defense. In many cases, the antibiotics are usually administered through an IV. The choice of antibiotic is important, and are usually broad spectrum, meaning the antibiotic may work on many different kinds of infection.

With additional testing, usually a culture which takes several days, the antibiotic may narrow to a more specialized antibiotic targeting the specific infection for the individual. Individuals may also require IV fluids to support blood pressure and keep organs properly perfused. Low blood pressure from septic shock, a leading cause of death in sepsis, may require a second kind of drug (in addition to IV Fluids) called a vasopressor, a medication specifically designed to elevate blood pressure. [SM2] 


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