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What is Sepsis?

Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening complication from an infection. It occurs when chemicals that are released into the bloodstream to fight the infection trigger inflammatory responses throughout the body.

In some cases, sepsis can lead to organ failure, tissue damage or even death.

Though anyone can contract sepsis, this complication is more common and poses the most significant danger in the following groups:

  • The elderly
  • Persons with wounds or injuries
  • Those with weakened immune systems
  • People who have invasive devices such as intravenous catheters or breathing tubes

Many doctors classify sepsis as a three-stage condition which begins with sepsis, can progress to severe sepsis, and, in the worst cases, advances into septic shock. Below is an overview of each potential stage of sepsis:

Sepsis – In order to be diagnosed with sepsis, a person must exhibit at least two of the following symptoms:

  • Possible or confirmed infection
  • Heart rate higher than 90 beats per minute
  • Respiratory rate higher than 20 breaths a minute
  • Body temperature above 101 degrees Fahrenheit or below 96.8 degrees Fahrenheit

Severe Sepsis – If a person exhibits at least one of the following symptoms, his or her diagnosis can be upgraded to severe sepsis, which can potentially indicate that an organ is failing:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abrupt change in mental status
  • Abnormal heart pumping function
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lowered platelet count
  • Decrease in urine output

Septic shock – In this case, a person must exhibit the signs and symptoms of severe sepsis in addition to low blood pressure that doesn’t sufficiently respond to fluid replacement.

Though any type of infection –bacterial, viral or fungal – can lead to sepsis, the most common varieties include:

  • Abdominal infection
  • Bloodstream infection
  • Kidney infection
  • Pneumonia

Check back in the coming weeks to learn more about the diagnostic tests and treatment options that are associated with sepsis.

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St. Barnabas Health System
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