When your body becomes overwhelmed by infection, sepsis can occur. This is a very serious medical condition that can lead to widespread inflammation, other complications and even death. How much do you know about this dangerous condition?
Sepsis is the leading cause of death in ICU
Sepsis can arise unpredictably and progress rapidly. The immune response to infection leads to widespread inflammation, which can cause blood clots and leaky vessels. This impairs blood flow, damaging organs by depriving them of oxygen and nutrients. In severe cases, one or more organs will fail, blood pressure drops, the heart weakens and the body goes into septic shock.
Fungi and viruses can also cause sepsis, but bacteria are the most common cause. Severe cases often start from a body-wide infection that spreads through the bloodstream, but a localized infection can also be responsible.
While anyone can get sepsis, people with a weakened immune system are more susceptible. Infants, children and the elderly are most vulnerable, and people with chronic illnesses, such as cancer, diabetes, AIDS and kidney have an increased risk. Severe burns or physical trauma can also make someone more susceptible to sepsis.
About 750,000 Americans now get sepsis every year, and about 28 to 50 percent of them die. The rise in sepsis cases could be due to the aging population, increased longevity of people with chronic illnesses, the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria, more invasive procedures and more frequent use of immunosuppressant and chemotherapy drugs.
Symptoms of sepsis can be mistaken for other conditions, which can make it harder to diagnose in early stages. Common symptoms include fever, chills, rapid breathing and heart rate, rash, confusion and disorientation.
Researchers are closer to diagnosing sepsis earlier
Much of the current research focuses on being able to diagnose sepsis earlier, which could dramatically improve survival rates. Researchers are looking at factors in the blood stream that could signal sepsis. They also are studying changes in the immune cell gene activity, which has been an effective indicator of sepsis in mice.