Sepsis: A Life-Threatening Condition!

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What is Sepsis?

Sepsis is a condition where your body (immune system) responds aggressively (by working overtime) to an infection (bacterial) that affects the blood. It basically causes blood poisoning and may lead to injuries or organ failures. In certain cases sepsis may also lead to septic shock (low blood pressure). Sepsis occurs when the chemicals (already poisonous) released into the bloodstream by the immune system becomes a breeding ground for bodily inflammation. Sepsis is not contagious but is commonly triggered by health conditions like pneumonia, kidney and abdominal infection. The occurrence of blood clots during sepsis inhibits the flow of blood to the limbs and other internal organs. As a resultant the organs and limbs are deprived of oxygen and nutrients. If your sepsis condition is extremely severe then you are susceptible to multiple organ failure.

This reaction brought about by the defence system of your body is also referred to as Septicaemia. Every year more people die or become disabled because of Sepsis than they do as a result of cancer or a stroke. So, if you have developed a condition of Sepsis then you should seek medical attention immediately!

Sepsis

The Risk Groups

  • The young (babies less than 3 months old) and,
  • The aged.
  • Women under the age group of 25 and above 40.

The first two age groups stand most vulnerable to sepsis, primarily because these groups have a weak immune system, or are suffering (in the case of the old) from chronic conditions such as kidney, liver disorders, cancer or diabetes, are receiving treatment in ICU (intensive care unit) or have recently undergone a surgery.

For the third group women who are more than 40 stand at a risk of developing sepsis because they have a high chance of developing Placenta Previa (placenta covering the entire or a portion of the cervix) and Abruptio Placenta (portion that is associated with the uterus wall).

Nowadays, vulnerability to sepsis is becoming far-reaching because people are undergoing a number of medical procedures such as organ transplant and chemotherapies. A growing number of people are also becoming resistant to antibiotics.

Sepsis ExplainedWhat You Should Watch Out For:

In most cases people tend to aggravate their sepsis condition because they don’t give due importance to the symptoms at the very onset. If you have recently had a bacterial infection then you should monitor your health and notify the doctor on the occasion of any out of the ordinary or discomforting side effects. If you develop an infection from the MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) staph bacteria then you become highly susceptible to sepsis. This is solely due to the reason that MRSA is resistant to a number of antibiotics. Be alert to any signs of;

  • Fever,
  • Rapid breathing,
  • Profuse sweating and
  • Rapid heartbeat.

Caution! – You stand highly susceptible to developing sepsis if you are already suffering from medical conditions such as:

  • Appendicitis
  • Meningitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Urinary Tract Infection.
  • Osteomyelitis (bone infection).
  • AIDS

If you have already been diagnosed with sepsis and you are experiencing symptoms such as dizziness, diarrhoea, slurred speech, clouded thoughts, vomiting, trouble breathing, clammy and cold skin, reduced urge to urinate then you may have already reached the level of a septic shock.

The Complications:

Sepsis is a severe condition to begin with. If you are suffering from sepsis you should be under medical supervision at all times. If your symptoms become complicated it may cause septic shock where there might be a sudden drop in the blood pressure levels. This will cause organ failure (by obstructing the path of blood flow to the various organs) and gangrene.

Although rare but sepsis may also occur to women who are pregnant (condition called maternal sepsis) or to those in the post-pregnancy stage. Maternal sepsis is triggered by a bacterial infection known as E. Coli. In the latter case sepsis occurs;

  • When an infection develops in the birth canal area or in the vaginal region (from natural birth),
  • due to an abortion (both spontaneous and induced),
  • As a result of prolonged labour,
  • due to a caesarean operation or
  • because of membranes rupturing

If sepsis occurs within six weeks of delivery then it is known as postpartum sepsis or puerperal sepsis. According to reports, these two conditions of sepsis, occurring during pregnancy or in the post-pregnancy stage is more commonly seen to occur in developing countries.

It may be difficult to detect maternal or postpartum sepsis in pregnant women because the symptoms associated with sepsis is exactly the same as symptoms that occur during pregnancy or during the post-pregnancy stage (which are considered normal). However, to be on the safe side it is advised that those who are pregnant or have had babies recently, get regular tests done to ensure that you do not develop sepsis.

The Survivors:

Globally, one-third of the population does not recover from sepsis. Those who survive, do so with one or more of their organs damaged and or some kind of amputation or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or chronic pain.

The Treatment:

Post-confirmation of your sepsis, you may be prescribed a list of antibiotics. If you are still in the initial stages of sepsis; these antibiotics which fall under the category of ‘broad-spectrum’ (effective against gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria meaning that they are successful in treating the common bacterial infections) are prescribed by the doctor and taken via the intravenous mode so that they get into the blood stream quickly. In the later stages you may have to take intravenous fluids, organ support and/or central venous catheter. However, if the intravenous mode fails to bring up your blood pressure levels then you might be given vasopressors, which helps to narrow the blood vessels while increasing the flow of blood.

For those diagnosed with a very critical condition of sepsis (septic shock), they may require additional care including oxygen support, or a machine to help facilitate breathing or one that helps in providing dialysis (in case of kidney damage).

Preventive Measures:

The best way to prevent sepsis from occurring in the first place would be by taking proper precautions. Both the young and the old (basically the age groups at risk) should opt for vaccinations. If you have managed to get any cuts, burns or wounds, get it treated right away and keep the wounds clean at all times to avoid any chances of infection. These preventive measures if taken at the right time should lower your chances of developing sepsis.

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