What is Sepsis? What are the symptoms and treatment methods?

By | 10 May 2021

As a result of severe infection in any part of the body, organs and tissues may be damaged by the intense response of the immune system. This serious condition, which can lead to death from single or multiple organ failure, is called sepsis. This condition, which starts with the mixing of microorganisms with the blood, is also known as blood poisoning. Sepsis, which can develop due to any kind of infection, is a life-threatening condition and the sooner its treatment is initiated, the higher the possibility of preventing organ damage. In order to prevent sepsis, infections should be treated seriously and before they progress.

What is Sepsis?

Sepsis occurs when the bacteria that cause an infection in the body mix into the blood and the immune system in the body shows a great defense response against these bacteria. Under normal conditions, it is normal and necessary for the body to develop an immune response against bacteria that enter the blood. However, when this response is much stronger than it should in some cases, it can damage organs and tissues. In severe sepsis cases, inflammation occurs in the whole body, and a picture called septic shock may occur. This situation brings along a serious drop in blood pressure and may result in death. Many infections can result in sepsis. In order to prevent this, necessary antibiotic treatments and intravenous fluid applications should be done on time. People with weak immune systems, pregnant women, children under 1-year-old and adults over 60 years old are more likely to develop sepsis compared to other individuals.

What are the symptoms of sepsis?

Symptoms of sepsis may not be very clear in severe infections. Therefore, it is possible that sepsis can be confused with different symptoms seen due to infection. Any diagnosed or undiagnosed infection presents a possibility for the development of sepsis. The most common symptoms of sepsis, which has three different stages – sepsis, severe sepsis, and septic shock – are:

  • Fever above 38 degrees
  • Heart rate above 90 beats per minute
  • Respiratory rate above 20 breaths per minute
  • Chills, and shaking
  • Shortness of breath

In case of the above symptoms, patients with any infection or suspected infection in their body should definitely apply to the emergency clinics of hospitals. When sepsis is not taken under control, the second stage, severe sepsis, develops. However, common symptoms seen include:

  • Reduced urination, burning, and pain when urinating
  • Pale, discolored, or mottled skin
  • Confusion and decreased cognitive functions
  • Low levels of platelets in the blood
  • Deterioration of respiratory functions and shortness of breath
  • Disruption of the heart rhythm
  • Low body temperature (hypothermia)
  • Excessive weight loss

In the case of septic shock, the last stage of sepsis, in addition to the above symptoms, there is abnormally low blood pressure and an increase in the level of lactic acid in the blood. At this stage, the occurrence of organ failure becomes inevitable.

What are the causes of sepsis?

Many types of infections can play a role in the formation of sepsis. The most common of these are urinary tract infections, respiratory tract infections, pneumonia, intra-abdominal infections, meningitis, wounds and burns, meningitis, and skin infections. Especially in elderly individuals, the possibility of getting sepsis is much higher. Wounds that occur in the body after surgical operations are among the risk factors of sepsis. In addition, the unnecessary use of antibiotics, the interruption of antibiotics, and the resistance of bacteria to antibiotics increase the risk of getting sepsis, as it prevents the control of infections. Immune-suppressing drugs used in the treatment of some diseases or in cases such as organ transplantation to accept the transplanted organ by the body weaken the immune system, making it easier for infections to cause sepsis. Children under the age of 1, pregnant women, people with chronic diseases, and elderly people are in the risk group for sepsis, and these individuals should pay attention to even the smallest infections and immediately apply to a health institution and have the necessary diagnostic tests.

How is sepsis diagnosed?

The presence of more than one of the symptoms mentioned above indicates that sepsis should be suspected. In individuals who apply to health institutions with these symptoms, some diagnostic tests are requested by the physician after the detailed history of the patient and physical examinations to be performed. The first and most important of these are blood tests. The presence of infection and infection markers in the blood is investigated. In addition, coagulation problems, oxygen amount, liver and kidney functions, water and electrolyte levels, and blood pH are evaluated with blood tests. After the symptoms and blood findings of the patient are evaluated together, further examinations may be required if deemed necessary by the physician. Urine tests can be used to examine bacteria in urine, and wound and mucus secretion tests to investigate infectious agents. In cases where these are not sufficient, X-ray to visualize the lungs computed tomography (CT) to investigate infections in internal organs, ultrasound for imaging infections in organs such as gall bladder and ovaries, and magnetic resonance (MRI) applications to examine soft tissue infections. As a result of the examinations, in patients diagnosed with sepsis, the form and level of symptoms can be determined and the stage of the disease can be determined. As a result of the findings obtained, the treatment process should be planned immediately, and the necessary applications should be started as soon as possible to protect the organ functions.

How is sepsis treated?

If sepsis is not detected in the early period and therefore cannot be treated, a picture of septic shock may occur and the disease may result in death. In order to prevent the disease from reaching this stage, patients who apply to clinics with symptoms of sepsis and who are diagnosed with sepsis are usually treated with the following drugs for treatment:

  • Vasoactive drugs to help raise low blood pressure
  • Intravenous antibiotics to help prevent infection
  • Corticosteroid drugs
  • Insulin injections to regulate blood sugar
  • Pain relievers

In addition to the use of the above medications, fluid support may be required through vascular access in case of severe sepsis. If shortness of breath and difficulty breathing are at a level to reduce oxygenation, the patient should be connected to a respirator. If kidney functions are affected due to sepsis, harmful wastes, excess water, and salt in the blood will not be removed from the body and will accumulate in the blood. In order to prevent this, in cases where kidney failure develops, the patient should undergo dialysis at intervals recommended by the physician. If the infection that causes sepsis is caused by an abscess containing inflammation, this situation that causes the disease is eliminated with the help of surgical operations or drainage applications. Patients should be admitted to intensive care units during the treatment process and should be kept under constant control. Patients should be kept under observation for a certain period of time after the disease is controlled and the symptoms related to the infection are eliminated. The treatment process to be applied for damage to organs and tissues is planned separately by the doctor.

Since sepsis is a very serious health problem and can be life-threatening, necessary precautions should be taken in order to minimize the possibility of this picture. For this, no infection should be taken lightly, and treatment should be initiated in line with the recommendations given in a timely manner. If you also have symptoms of the presence of any infection in your body, your symptoms related to the infection are getting worse day by day, and if you are experiencing some of the symptoms of sepsis mentioned above, you should immediately consult a healthcare facility, focusing on the possibility of sepsis. It should be kept in mind that if sepsis is detected at an early stage and treatment is initiated immediately, the occurrence of organ failure can be prevented and vital threats can be eliminated.



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