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Pulmonary Conditions & Diseases: Sepsis

Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening condition caused by the body’s response to an infection. If not recognized and treated quickly sepsis can lead to death. Some studies suggest as much as half the deaths that occur in a hospital are attributable to sepsis.

What are the risk factors and triggers?

Anyone can develop a sepsis reaction to an infection. People at the highest risk include:

  • Elderly
  • Immunosuppressed

Common infections which can lead to sepsis include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Abdominal infections
  • Infections related to medical devices (foley catheters, perm-caths, drains, etc.)
  • Open wounds and abscesses
  • Blood infections

What are the signs and symptoms?

The initial signs and symptoms are related to the type of infection. Most infections cause inflammation, signs and symptoms of inflammation include:

  • Fever
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Elevated respiratory rate

More severe forms of sepsis can affect some or all organs in the body. These signs and symptoms include:

  • The Kidneys – Decrease in urine production
  • The Liver – Yellow color to the skin and eyes
  • The Lungs – Problems breathing
  • The Brain – Confusion and drowsiness

The most severe form of sepsis is septic shock which can result in poor blood flow to every organ in the body including the heart.

How is it diagnosed?

To have sepsis, a person must first have an infection. However, because this condition can be so dangerous, when there is a concern for sepsis patients are often started on antibiotics before an infection has been confirmed.

Multiple blood tests look for an inappropriate reaction of the body to the infection. The physical exam and additional labs look for damage to the kidneys, liver, lungs, and brain.

What is the treatment?

Initial treatment includes:

  • Antibiotics or antivirals to treat bacterial or viral infections
  • IV fluids
  • Occasionally surgery is required to manage the source of the infection

Much of the treatment involves assisting organs of the body which are damaged by severe forms of sepsis:

  • Kidney damage may require temporary dialysis
  • Liver damage can be the most dangerous because there is not a life support machine for the liver
  • Lung damage or severe drowsiness may require temporary breathing assistance on a ventilator
  • Low blood pressure, seen in septic shock, may require blood pressure boosting medication

What are the benefits of Diagnosis and Treatment?

Early recognition and treatment of sepsis can prevent progression to the more severe forms of sepsis which involve organ damage. Sometimes progression of sepsis is rapid and requires the highest level of treatment in the hospital which is found in the Intensive Care Unit. If caught and treated quickly, organ damage is often temporary. Our goal at Piedmont is to provide the best care for each individual patient.

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