Septic Shock: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Sepsis occurs when your body has an extreme reaction to an infection. This reaction causes drastic changes in the body and can be very dangerous and potentially life threatening.

Doctors have identified three stages of sepsis:

  • Sepsis. An infection reaches the bloodstream and causes inflammation in the body.
  • Severe sepsis. The infection is severe enough to affect organ function.
  • Septic shock. There’s a significant drop in blood pressure that can lead to respiratory or heart failure, stroke, dysfunction of other organs, and possibly death.

Sepsis is most often caused by bacterial infections, but almost any infection can cause sepsis if left untreated. Both both sepsis and septic shock can happen to anyone.

Septic shock is a severe complication of sepsis that can include very low blood pressure, an altered mental state, and organ dysfunction. It has a hospital mortality rate of 30–50 percentTrusted Source, making it very dangerous if not treated quickly.

The earlier sepsis is diagnosed, the quicker doctors can treat it and attempt to keep it from turning into septic shock.

Sepsis is a medical emergency, but in the beginning, its symptoms can often mimic the symptoms of other issues, such as a cold or fever.

If you or someone you know has recently had an infection that doesn’t seem to be improving or has started exhibiting these symptomsTrusted Source, it’s possible it may be sepsis:

While these symptoms could be signs of another health issue, it’s always a good idea to contact a doctor or go to the hospital if you’re worried that you or someone you are caring for seems to be deteriorating.

The transition from the onset of sepsis to severe sepsis and septic shock can happen quickly, and once the condition has transitioned, the mortality rate can increases. The symptoms of severe sepsis and septic shock can overlap, and can include:

  • noticeably lower amounts of urine
  • acute confusion
  • dizziness
  • severe problems breathing
  • bluish discoloration of the digits or lips (cyanosis)

Specifically, people experiencing septic shock will also have very low blood pressure that doesn’t respond to fluid replacement and have abnormalities in blood flow which can result in organ dysfunction.

Sepsis can result from a bacterial, fungal, or viral infection. These infections may begin at home or while you’re in the hospital for treatment of another condition.

Sepsis commonly originates from:

Septic shock is what happens when sepsis itself isn’t diagnosed or treated in time.

Certain factors such as age or prior illness can put you at greater risk for developing septic shock.

The people who are more vulnerable to sepsis include newborns, older adults, pregnant people, and those with suppressed immune systems due to HIV, autoimmune conditionscirrhosis of the liver, kidney disease, and cancer.

The following factors could also make a sepsis diagnosis — and possibly septic shock — more likely:

  • recovering from surgery or being in the hospital for a long time
  • living with diabetes
  • being exposed to devices like intravenous catheters, urinary catheters, or breathing tubes, which can introduce bacteria into the body
  • taking immunosuppressant drugs

If you have symptoms of sepsis, your doctor or another hospital professional will conduct tests to determine how far along the infection is.

These tests can help determine what germ actually caused the infection that led to sepsis, as well as whether any additional bacterial infections are present and whether there’s organ damage.

In cases where the source of the infection isn’t clear from the tests above, a doctor could also apply the following methods of getting an internal view of your body:

Septic shock is typically diagnosed when the signs of severe sepsis are present, along with low blood pressure and signs of organ dysfunction.

Septic shock can cause a variety of very dangerous and life threatening complications that can be fatal. Possible complications include:

The complications you may experience, and the outcome of your condition can depend on certain factors, such as:

  • age
  • how soon treatment is started
  • the cause and origin of sepsis within the body
  • preexisting medical conditions

The earlier sepsis is diagnosed and treated, the less likely septic shock will develop, and the more likely you are to survive.

Doctors use a number of medications to treat septic shock, including:

  • intravenous antibiotics to fight infection
  • vasopressor medications, which are drugs that constrict blood vessels and help increase blood pressure
  • insulin for blood sugar stability
  • corticosteroids

Large amounts of intravenous (IV) fluids will likely be administered to treat dehydration and help increase blood pressure and blood flow to the organs. A respirator for breathing may also be necessary.

Surgery may be performed to remove a source of infection, such as draining a pus-filled abscess or removing infected tissue.

Many individuals who survive sepsis recover completely. However, if your sepsis developed into a more severe form or septic shock, certain post-recovery side effectsTrusted Source are possible, including:

Some people who recover from sepsis may be at a high risk of additional infections because of the time it takes the immune system to completely recover, which could be anywhere from several weeks to months.

If your muscle weakness is extensive, your doctor may recommend physical therapy.

Septic shock is a severe complication of sepsis. Your chances of recovering from septic shock will depend on the source of the infection, how many organs have been affected, and how soon you receive treatment after you first begin experiencing symptoms of sepsis.

While it’s possible to make a full recovery from sepsis and even septic shock, the quicker symptoms are addressed, the better your chances are for a full recovery.

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