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Sepsis (Blood Infection)

Sepsis Overview

Sepsis is a condition in which the body is fighting a severe infection that has spread via the bloodstream. If a patient becomes "septic," they will likely have low blood pressure leading to poor circulation and lack of perfusion of vital tissues and organs. This condition is termed "shock" and is sometimes referred to as septic shock, when an infection is the cause of shock. This condition can develop either as a result of the body's own defense system or from toxic substances made by the infecting agent (such as a bacteria, virus, or fungus).

People at Risk for Sepsis

  • People whose immune systems (the body's defense against infections) are not functioning well because of an illness (such as diabetes or AIDS) or because of medical treatments (such as chemotherapy for cancer or steroids for a number of medical conditions) that weaken the immune system are more prone to develop sepsis. It is important to remember that even healthy people can become septic.
  • Because their immune systems are not completely developed, very young babies may get sepsis if they become infected and are not treated in a timely manner. Often, if they develop signs of an infection such as fever, infants must receive antibiotics and be admitted to the hospital. Sepsis in the very young is often more difficult to diagnose because the typical signs of sepsis (fever, change in behavior) may not be present or may be more difficult to ascertain.
  • The elderly population, especially those with other medical illnesses such as diabetes, may be at increased risk as well.
  • Hospitalized patients are at risk to develop sepsis from infections due to intravenous lines, surgical wounds, and/or bedsores.

The number of people dying from sepsis has increased in the past 20 years. This is most likely due to the increased number of patients who suffer from sepsis. The number of patients who develop sepsis has increased for many reasons. Since 1999, the rapid rise of sepsis mortality seen in previous decades has slowed.

  • There has been a large increase in sepsis because doctors have started treating cancer patients and organ-transplant patients, among others, with strong medications that weaken the immune system. In the past, these patients would have died due to complications of their disease. As we get better at treating the underlying illness, patients survive longer but then sometimes die due to the complications of the therapy.
  • Because of our aging population, the number of elderly people with weak immune systems has grown.
  • Because antibiotic use has increased, many strains of bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics, making the treatment of sepsis more difficult in some cases.

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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Sepsis, Bacterial »

Sepsis is a clinical term used to describe symptomatic bacteremia, with or without organ dysfunction.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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