Sepsis

What is sepsis?

The simple definition of sepsis is that it is an extreme and life threatening response to an infection by the body. It is a medical emergency that requires urgent medical attention.

sepsis
How sepsis occurs-Credit: Designua /Shutterstock

Sepsis with Pneumonia and other infections

Sepsis can start as a variety of infection like pneumonia, urinary tract infection or appendicitis. Septic shock is a very common complication of pneumonia.

The tragic case of Ifedolapo Oladepo

  • Ifedolapo Oladepo was a corps member who died in 2016 from sepsis brought the topic on sepsis into limelight.  
  • She attended the clinic and complained of headache and fever which she said she has had for two days.
  • She was treated with Artemether, piriton and paracetamol for fever and sent back to the hostel.
  • She was brought back to the clinic by friends a few hour later with complaints of vomiting and general body aches.
  • Examinations by the doctors revealed that she had rashes on her legs.
  • She was then treated with Drazamol injection and Piriton.
  • Some hours later, she was administered hydrocortisone 200 mg after doctor suspected rash was due to food or drug allergy.
  • Some hours later, she told the doctor that she had not urinated for some time and the doctor referred her to the General Hospital. On arrival at the general hospital, the doctor requested blood tests which included full blood count and kidney test.
  • Results of the test showed that that Ifedolapo had renal sepsis (kidney infection) probably due to untreated urinary tract infection. It also showed high potassium level and required immediate dialysis which was only available at the Teaching Hospital which was 2 hours’ drive away. She had Gluconate administered.
  • Her condition worsened and she started showing signs of fluid retention. She was placed on oxygen but later died.
sepsis rash

This picture shows the septic rash on late Ifedolapo Oladepo’s body

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What are the signs and symptoms of sepsis?

The signs and symptoms of sepsis include

  • High heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweaty skin
  • Low or high body temperature
  • Chills and shivering
  • Extreme pain or discomfort

What are the three stages of sepsis?

The three stages of sepsis are;

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  1. Sepsis
  2. Severe sepsis
  3. Septic shock

Septic shock
Sepsis criteria
Diagnosis of sepsis

Laboratory tests

Blood samples are collected and sent to the lab to check for

  • Infection
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Problems with clotting
  • Kidney function
  • Liver function
  • Oxygen levels

Urine sample may be collected to check for infection.

Imaging tests

Your doctor may also request

  • X-ray
  • Ultrasound
  • Computerized tomography (CT
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Management and treatment of sepsis

BUFALO is the acronym used to help remember the management and treatment of sepsis and should ideally be completed within one hour of recognising the symptoms of sepsis and red flags. It which stands for:

  • B-blood cultures
  • U-urine output-Urine output should be measured.
  • F-Fluids-Intravenous fluids
  • A-Antibiotics-The patient should be treated with antibiotics.
  • L- Lactate measurement
  • O-Oxygen

Other interventions include

  • Vasopressors to increase blood pressure if it remains low.
  • Steroid medication
  • Insulin to help maintain stable blood sugar levels
  • Immune modifying medications
  • Painkillers
  • Sedatives
  • Dialysis if kidney affected.
  • Surgery to remove the source of infection.

Frequently asked questions

Is sepsis contagious?

NO, sepsis is not contagious.

Is sepsis curable?

Yes, Sepsis can be treated.

Is sepsis fatal?

Yes, sepsis is a life threatening condition that can be fatal.

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About the author

Nwasom is a pharmacy graduate and a pharmacist currently practising in the United Kingdom. I have great experience communicating with patients and their family as gained through working as a pharmacist in both the hospital and community pharmacy sector. I love writing so it was a natural thing to try and pass medical and health information on through writing.