Telltale signs that are consistent with sepsis and septic shock.
Our bodies spend a lot of time dealing with infection. When you get an infection, a healthy, active immune system works to fight it off.
But what happens when your immune system is not sufficient to fight it off alone? The infection can progress to a more advanced stage known as sepsis.
Most people think flu-like symptoms are a sign they’re coming down with a cold, but they can actually be far more serious.
Recognizing sepsis blood poisoning in time for treatment could save someone’s life, say experts.
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Without being treated quickly, sepsis can lead to multiple organ failure – and even death.
There have been multiple cases in the news of people who thought they had a common cold, or who were misdiagnosed, actually having sepsis, a rare but serious complication arising from infection.
Sepsis, or inflammation resulting from the body’s fight against infection, is more prevalent in older adults. One reason is that your immune system and the body’s natural physical defenses (such as the skin) weaken as you age.
Sepsis can occur following chest or water infections, problems in the abdomen like burst ulcers, or simple skin injuries like cuts and bites.
If not treated quickly, sepsis can eventually lead to multiple organ failure and death.
In sepsis, the body’s immune system goes into overdrive, setting off a series of reactions including widespread inflammation, swelling and blood clotting.
This can lead to a significant decrease in blood pressure, which can mean the blood supply to vital organs such as the brain, heart and kidneys is reduced.
“Every hour that passes, the risk of developing sepsis increases dramatically, so knowing the symptoms of infection and getting help immediately is crucial,” says critical care physician Anita Reddy, MD.
Early symptoms of sepsis usually develop quickly and can include:
High temperature or fever,
- Chills and shivering,
- A sped-up heartbeat
- Fast breathing
In some cases, symptoms of more severe sepsis or septic shock – when blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level – develop soon after.
These can include:
- Feeling dizzy or faint,
- Confusion or disorientation,
- Nausea and vomiting,
- Diarrhoea and cold,
- Clammy and pale or mottled skin
- Reduced amount of urine or dark-colored urine.
Severe sepsis and septic shock are life-threatening medical emergencies.
Who can get sepsis?
Sepsis can occur any time a severe infection is present.
Although an infection can progress enough to cause sepsis in anyone, including people with normal immune systems, it is more likely in those with compromised immune systems.
In young people, compromised immune systems are most often seen in:
- Pregnant women.
- People with HIV.
- Individuals taking chemotherapy for cancer.
However, of all cases of sepsis in the U.S. each year, far more are seen in older people.
“Age is a significant risk factor for sepsis,” says Dr. Reddy.
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