January 31, 2015
1 min read

Sepsis: What you should know

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Patients battling any type of infection such as influenza, pneumonia, urinary tract infection or even food poisoning are at additional risk for sepsis — a serious complication that may lead to multiple organ failures and death, according to a recent sepsis overview published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Physicians should know the symptoms, risk factors, prevention measures, the difference between severe sepsis and septic shock and the various treatment options available. So, what is known about sepsis?

1. Watch out for these common symptoms.

A timely diagnosis is key in a patient with sepsis, according to the paper. Physicians should be aware of the most common signs — high fever, rapid heartbeat, shallow breathing, lethargy, confusion and the inability to retain fluids.

2. Certain patients are at an increased risk.

While it is possible for sepsis to occur in any patient, those undergoing treatment with chemotherapy or any other type of therapy that suppresses the immune system are at increased risk, according to the paper. Patients with open wounds as well as the elderly are also at increased risk.

3. Prevention measures are available.

According to Steve Peters, MD, pulmonary and critical care physician at Mayo Clinic, patients should take their temperature, maintain fluid consumption, be aware of the symptoms of sepsis and immediately seek medical care if sepsis is suspected. Antibiotics are often prescribed preventively for patients undergoing treatment with chemotherapy or other immune-suppressing drugs.

4. Know the difference between severe sepsis and severe shock.

A patient with severe sepsis presents with symptoms of damage to body organs including the kidney, lungs or the liver. Septic shock occurs when the patient continues to have poor breathing, blood pressure and output of urine even after they have been given fluids to treat severe sepsis, according to Peters. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have successfully developed a surveillance algorithm, dubbed “sepsis sniffer,” to accurately identify and diagnose severe sepsis that may otherwise go unnoticed in hospitalized patients.  

5. Sepsis should be treated promptly.

Once a patient has been properly diagnosed with sepsis via blood culture, fluids should be administered via IV and the patient should be prescribed antibiotics. Hospitalization may be necessary if symptoms do not improve, according to the paper.

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