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 be in a state of low blood pressure termed "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 microbes) are not functioning well because of an illness (such as cancer 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 suffer from sepsis.
  • 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 have to 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.

The number of people dying from sepsis has almost doubled in the past 20 years. This is most likely due to the increased number of patients who suffer from sepsis.

  • 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.
  • Also, because of our aging population, the number of elderly people with weak immune systems has grown.
  • Finally, because of the increased and often inappropriate use of antibiotics to treat illnesses caused by viruses and not bacteria, many strains of bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics, making the treatment of sepsis more difficult in some cases.
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