Septicemia

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What is it?

Septicemia or Sepsis is a medical condition caused by a serious infection. Sepsis can be defined as the continuum between an initial infection and organ dysfunction. The immune system responds to the infection by releasing chemicals into the bloodstream and in some instances, the chemicals released can cause wide-spread inflammation and organ damage. As a result, there a number of dangerous health risks: blood clotting, organ damage or even organ failure, resulting in septic shock. Sepsis will affect at least 750,000 Americans per year. Detected early,sepsis is successfully treatable. However, the longer treatment is delayed, the greater the risk.

Causes

Septicemia is caused by an infection. An infection can start anywhere infectious agents enter the body.

However, the lung, abdomen and urinary tract are the most common sources of infection leading to septicemia. The infection is usually bacteria but fungi and viruses have also be known to cause septicemia. Specifically, gram-positive bacteria are believed to cause at least 50% of cases. Everyone is susceptible to septicemia however, people whose immune systems are not funcioning well are more likely. Such people may include those with a pre-existing illness such as HIV/AIDS or cancer. The elderly, the very young and people with diabetes are also more susceptible. Your best defence against septicemia is maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle. Taking care of your diet and body will prevent septicemia.

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Symptoms

Signs of septicemia differ from case to case. Depending on where the infection takes place, there can be a variety of symptoms. Rapid breathing and a change in mental status may be a sign of septicemia. Other common symptoms include: fever, shaking, chills, a low body temperature, decreased urination, rapid pulse and breathing, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. In extreme cases, septicemia may result in a drop of blood pressure, ultimately leading to septic shock. Light-headedness may also occur and bruising or intense bleeding. It is important to seek treatment to prevent infection but if you are experiencing symptoms of septicemia, you must communicate with your health professional. For more information on symptoms, consult WebMD for any immediate questions.

Diagnosis

Before undertaking any antibiotic treatment, make sure your health professional performs a blood analysis. There are 3 levels of septicemia. The first stage is when two or more of the following symptoms are present: abnormal body temperatures, heart or respiratory rates, blood gas or a white blood cell count. The second stage can be defined as sepsis-induced organ dysfunction or tissue hypoperfusion. The third stage is septic shock, including persistantly low blood pressure following intravenous fluid administration. Approximately 65-80% of people with severe sepsis will survive but that number drops to 30-70% in cases of septic shock. Septic shock is the most dangerous outcome of septicemia and can result in death. For more information on septic shock, consult WebMD or your physician.

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Treatment

The treatment for septicemia is dependant on the stage of septicemia. Antibiotics and intraveneous fluids are needed to cure the infection. In the second and third stages of septicemia, additional treatment is needed to provide support for organ dysfunction and to provide drainage for infected fluid collection. Duration of treatment is typically 7-10 days. It is important to maintain adequate nutrition throughout treatment, especially in a long illness. In severe sepsis, it is recommended to begin antiobiotic treatment no later than 1 hour after diagnosis. Mortality rates rise 6% per hour once septicemia has reached stage 2 or a severe level. Obviously swift treatment is very important. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms described above, please consult your physician.