Sepsis: when can this dangerous complication arise

Sepsis is a complication of an infection and occurs when your body has an excessive systemic inflammatory response. It occurs when pathogens manage to invade the blood and, from there, cause damage to organs and tissues. The initial symptoms are fever, profound weakness, and an increased heart rate.

Sepsis occurs as a result of an exaggerated systemic inflammatory response that your body could trigger if it senses that pathogenic microorganisms that have caused an infection have passed into the blood. The culprits can be viruses, fungi or bacteria, but the most frequent are the latter. The consequence is progressive tissue damage which, without prompt intervention and adequate care, can even lead to death . In Europe, for example, 700 thousand cases of sepsis are reported every year and, among them, 1 in 5 patients does not survive.

In general, it tends to arise mainly in individuals with weaker immune systems, such as young children, the elderly, and immunocompromised people. But theoretically, each of us who has contracted an infection, even a trivial one, could be a victim. The initial symptoms are a very high fever or, conversely, a drastic drop in your body temperature. And it is already at that moment that it is essential to go to the emergency room.

Sepsis
  • 1.
    What’s this
  • 2.
    Symptoms
  • 3.
    The causes
  • 4.
    The risk factors
  • 5.
    Is it contagious?
  • 6.
    The diagnosis
  • 7.
    The cure
  • 8.
    The times of healing

What’s this

Sepsis is a complication of an infection you already have . Fortunately, this is a rare event triggered by an excessive systemic inflammatory response (SIRS) by the body. But your body reacts in this disproportionate way because it senses imminent danger. In particular, it records that the pathogen that caused the infection, for example in the urinary tract , has managed to reach the blood and therefore has the door open for all other organs and tissues. This is why a sort of red alert is triggered which, however, paradoxically, is precisely at the origin of a drastic worsening of health conditions.

This state of generalized inflammation causes damage to the tissues and organs that it should have protected, ending up forcing you into intensive care and risking to lead to death.

In fact, it must be said, if you are diagnosed right away, sepsis can be treated at home and you will enjoy a total recovery. The problem is when the situation worsens and septic shock occurs. At this point they will have to be admitted to intensive care and the success of the treatment could also be uncertain.

Sepsis and septicemia

You will often hear them named together and perhaps you have subconsciously convinced yourself that they are synonymous. Sepsis and septicemia are mostly consecutive stages of the same problem. The second in fact only indicates the situation for which the bacteria (or other pathogens) arrived in the blood and invaded it. When we talk about sepsis, it means that the damage to the tissues is already taking place .

Neonatal sepsis

When a baby is less than three months old , his immune system is still very weak and above all untrained. Therefore, if the organism is attacked by an infectious agent, the defenses can react incorrectly, ending up attacking healthy tissues. Neonatal sepsis is therefore more frequent than that in an adult and healthy individual and is also recognized through specific symptoms such as profound and prolonged sleepiness, cold and bluish skin or with patches that do not become clearer if you try to press with fingers and diapers dry for over 12 hours.

Symptoms

As for the symptoms of sepsis, they naturally resemble those of a normal infection. It begins in fact with a high fever and chills, which however are accompanied by other manifestations such as accelerated breathing and increased heart rate. This is surely the time to intervene with the most appropriate therapies, before septic shock , which can be fatal, also occurs.

The signs that can make you understand that the situation is progressing in the negative are:

  • very intense weaknesswith possible loss of consciousness
  • intestinal disorders such as diarrhea, nausea or vomiting
  • respiratory difficulties
  • cold, clammy and pale skin
  • presence of patchesthat do not lighten if you press lightly
  • confusion and disorientation

If, on the other hand, you have a small child, and even more so if he is a newborn, he will not be able to explain the feelings he experiences. There will therefore be symptoms that you should pay more attention to. In addition to the fever and patches, seizures or profound lethargy may also occur . Then listen to her breathing and see if she seems wheezy or if she needs to take long breaks between breaths. Also important are the loss of appetite and the absence of urine for at least 12 hours, the swelling of the fontanel, the sunken eyes and the stiffness in the neck.

The causes

The cause of sepsis is an infection and, as I have already explained to you, the passage in your blood of the microorganisms that caused it. As a rule, these are bacteria , while it is rarer that a virus or a fungus is at the origin. But the question is: why are these pathogens walking around your body? Your immune system which is too weak and cannot make enough white blood cells to control the spread of infected cells. At this point, the bacterium, free to circulate, will reach the blood and will trigger a generalized infection, which will cause your body to respond with all the weapons at its disposal, excessively activating the immune defenses. And so sepsis will be triggered.

Also on a theoretical level, any infection, even small and apparently negligible, can degenerate in this way. In reality, however, there are some that are more likely to underlie this pathology . In particular:

  • pneumonia
  • appendicitis
  • peritonitis
  • urinary tract infections
  • cholecystitis
  • skin infections (possibly caused by inserting a venous catheter)
  • infections arising after surgery
  • meningitis
  • encephalitis
  • endocarditis

The risk factors

As I told you, the main reason why sepsis occurs is a weakened immune system and therefore there are some risk factors that expose you more to this eventuality. First of all, if you are a baby or a child your defenses are not yet fully formed and may therefore not be able to contain the infection. Similarly, as an elderly person , the body may have lost strength and therefore you would be short of protection. But even if you are in the middle age range between these two poles, you may be at risk.

Infants, children and the elderly are more at risk for sepsis

I am referring in particular to those who are immunosuppressed , due to a disease such as AIDS, a transplant or a chemotherapy or a prolonged cortisone-based therapy. Then there are chronic and even quite common diseases , such as diabetes, which can favor the onset of sepsis.

Even more so, accidents that have caused trauma or serious injuries , but also the implantation of invasive medical devices or having been subjected to mechanical ventilation can weaken the body to the point that it will be exposed to a possible infection. . Hospitalization also exposes you to rather dangerous bacterial infections , because they are often antibiotic resistant and therefore not curable like the drugs we currently have available.

Is it contagious?

Sepsis itself is not contagious . It means that if you have to assist a person who is affected by it, you will not automatically be affected by this complication. But since this is a consequence of an infection already present in the body, keep in mind that the pathogen that caused it may also attack you. And if this transmission occurs, you too would be at risk of sepsis. Therefore it is always better to avoid contact with contaminated objects and, of course, it is good to keep a certain distance with the patient, so as not to inhale infected particles.

The diagnosis

Diagnosis of sepsis must of course be timely and take place before the situation becomes too serious. In addition to symptoms, parameters such as body temperature, heart rate and respiratory rate are usually evaluated . These are in fact, as we have seen, the first symptoms of the complication of an infection. But for the treatment to be effective and targeted, it is first necessary to understand which pathogen is causing all this damage. To identify it, a blood culture and other laboratory tests are therefore used for this very purpose.

If you then want to better assess the extent of the problem or how widespread the infection is, you may need to undergo a CT scan, x-ray, or ultrasound.

Sepsis and septicemia

You will often hear them named together and perhaps you have subconsciously convinced yourself that they are synonymous. Sepsis and septicemia are mostly consecutive stages of the same problem. The second in fact only indicates the situation for which the bacteria (or other pathogens) arrived in the blood and invaded it. When we talk about sepsis, it means that the damage to the tissues is already taking place .

Neonatal sepsis

When a baby is less than three months old , his immune system is still very weak and above all untrained. Therefore, if the organism is attacked by an infectious agent, the defenses can react incorrectly, ending up attacking healthy tissues. Neonatal sepsis is therefore more frequent than that in an adult and healthy individual and is also recognized through specific symptoms such as profound and prolonged sleepiness, cold and bluish skin or with patches that do not become clearer if you try to press with fingers and diapers dry for over 12 hours.

Symptoms

As for the symptoms of sepsis, they naturally resemble those of a normal infection. It begins in fact with a high fever and chills, which however are accompanied by other manifestations such as accelerated breathing and increased heart rate. This is surely the time to intervene with the most appropriate therapies, before septic shock , which can be fatal, also occurs.

The signs that can make you understand that the situation is progressing in the negative are:

  • very intense weakness with possible loss of consciousness
  • intestinal disorders such as diarrhea, nausea or vomiting
  • respiratory difficulties
  • cold, clammy and pale skin
  • presence of patches that do not lighten if you press lightly
  • confusion and disorientation

If, on the other hand, you have a small child, and even more so if he is a newborn, he will not be able to explain the feelings he experiences. There will therefore be symptoms that you should pay more attention to. In addition to the fever and patches, seizures or profound lethargy may also occur . Then listen to her breathing and see if she seems wheezy or if she needs to take long breaks between breaths. Also important are the loss of appetite and the absence of urine for at least 12 hours, the swelling of the fontanel, the sunken eyes and the stiffness in the neck.

The causes

The cause of sepsis is an infection and, as I have already explained to you, the passage in your blood of the microorganisms that caused it. As a rule, these are bacteria , while it is rarer that a virus or a fungus is at the origin. But the question is: why are these pathogens walking around your body? Your immune system which is too weak and cannot make enough white blood cells to control the spread of infected cells. At this point, the bacterium, free to circulate, will reach the blood and will trigger a generalized infection, which will cause your body to respond with all the weapons at its disposal, excessively activating the immune defenses. And so sepsis will be triggered.

Also on a theoretical level, any infection, even small and apparently negligible, can degenerate in this way. In reality, however, there are some that are more likely to underlie this pathology . In particular:

  • pneumonia
  • appendicitis
  • peritonitis
  • urinary tract infections
  • cholecystitis
  • skin infections (possibly caused by inserting a venous catheter)
  • infections arising after surgery
  • meningitis
  • encephalitis
  • endocarditis

The risk factors

As I told you, the main reason why sepsis occurs is a weakened immune system and therefore there are some risk factors that expose you more to this eventuality. First of all, if you are a baby or a child your defenses are not yet fully formed and may therefore not be able to contain the infection. Similarly, as an elderly person , the body may have lost strength and therefore you would be short of protection. But even if you are in the middle age range between these two poles, you may be at risk.

Infants, children and the elderly are more at risk for sepsis

I am referring in particular to those who are immunosuppressed , due to a disease such as AIDS, a transplant or a chemotherapy or a prolonged cortisone-based therapy. Then there are chronic and even quite common diseases , such as diabetes, which can favor the onset of sepsis.

Even more so, accidents that have caused trauma or serious injuries , but also the implantation of invasive medical devices or having been subjected to mechanical ventilation can weaken the body to the point that it will be exposed to a possible infection. . Hospitalization also exposes you to rather dangerous bacterial infections , because they are often antibiotic resistant and therefore not curable like the drugs we currently have available.

Is it contagious?

Sepsis itself is not contagious . It means that if you have to assist a person who is affected by it, you will not automatically be affected by this complication. But since this is a consequence of an infection already present in the body, keep in mind that the pathogen that caused it may also attack you. And if this transmission occurs, you too would be at risk of sepsis. Therefore it is always better to avoid contact with contaminated objects and, of course, it is good to keep a certain distance with the patient, so as not to inhale infected particles.

The diagnosis

Diagnosis of sepsis must of course be timely and take place before the situation becomes too serious. In addition to symptoms, parameters such as body temperature, heart rate and respiratory rate are usually evaluated . These are in fact, as we have seen, the first symptoms of the complication of an infection. But for the treatment to be effective and targeted, it is first necessary to understand which pathogen is causing all this damage. To identify it, a blood culture and other laboratory tests are therefore used for this very purpose.

If you then want to better assess the extent of the problem or how widespread the infection is, you may need to undergo a CT scan, x-ray, or ultrasound.

The cure

As you can imagine, the treatment of sepsis depends above all on the type of microorganism that caused it, on the infection from which everything started and on what damage has already been inflicted on your organs. In most cases, hospitalization is recommended , while in severe cases, intensive care is required .

Especially in the case of bacterial origin, it is essential to start antibiotic therapy as soon as possible . To act as quickly as possible, you may be given broad-spectrum antibiotics, waiting for the blood culture to reveal the exact family of the pathogen that has affected you. At that point we will move on to a more targeted treatment.

Combined with drugs, liquids are also essential , which will be administered intravenously . The aim is to avoid not only the risk of dehydration , which is very common in these cases, but also of kidney failure. Finally, oxygen , if there is too little oxygen in your blood. You could therefore be applied the special mask or a cannula, inserted in your nostrils.

Then, depending on the damage caused, it may be necessary to intervene with other treatments, such as blood transfusions, dialysis or mechanical ventilation.

The times of healing

Healing times vary and depend on how widespread the infection is, how quickly treatment is initiated and how your body reacts. It could then happen that post-sepsis syndrome occurs , or symptoms that arise once the main problem has been resolved, but which are still to be considered a long-term complication. These are mainly very intense sleepiness, swelling of the limbs and joint or muscle pain, chest pain, breathlessness.

 

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