What Are Symptoms of Sepsis?
September is Sepsis Awareness Month, and we at Ochsner Health recognize the impact of this condition on the communities we serve. Sepsis is very common, and by the time you read these two sentences, someone in the world has died due to the condition.
Sepsis primarily occurs when the body overreacts to a severe infection. Normally, this kind of reaction protects a person by beginning the healing process. However, when a patient is septic, the immune system kicks into overdrive and causes harm by damaging organ function.
There are many ways to become septic, including exposure to dangerous bacteria or waiting too long to seek medical care for other infections, such as pneumonia. Genetic differences may also influence your risk, as well being very young or elderly. People with chronic conditions or weakened immune systems may also be at increased risk.
Healthcare providers often think of sepsis as a chameleon of diseases because its symptoms can vary greatly, mimicking other illnesses. This makes early identification of sepsis critical for a patient’s successful recovery.
Factors like early blood tests, fluids and antibiotics are important. In fact, even government groups like the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services recognize how important it is that patients receive care quickly, and have “sepsis care bundles,” which include treatment steps that must be started within three-six hours after a suspected diagnosis.
If sepsis is recognized and treated early, the chances of recovery are much higher. For every hour that antibiotics are not given, the risk of dying increases by 8%. For each organ that fails as a result of sepsis, the risk of dying increases by 20%. Broadly, there are a few categories of severity, ranging from early sepsis to septic shock. The average mortality rate for sepsis is approximately 10% but increases to approximately 40% for septic shock. These are the symptoms that you should watch for, by age group:
Sepsis symptoms in children under 5 years of age:
- looks mottled, bluish or pale
- is very lethargic or difficult to wake
- feels abnormally cold to touch
- is breathing very fast
- has a rash that does not fade when you press it
- has a fit or convulsion
- temperature over 100.4 degrees in babies under 3 months
- temperature over 102.2 degrees in babies aged 3-6 months
- any high temperature in a child who cannot be encouraged to show interest in anything
- low temperature (below 96.8 degrees – check three times in a 10-minute period)
- finding it much harder to breathe than normal – looks like hard work
- making "grunting" noises with every breath
- can't say more than a few words at once (for older children who normally talk)
- breathing that obviously "pauses"
- has not urinated or had a wet diaper for 12 hours
Eating and drinking
- new baby under 1 month old with no interest in feeding
- not drinking for more than eight hours (when awake)
- bile-stained (green), bloody or black vomit
Activity and body
- soft spot on a baby's head is bulging
- eyes look "sunken"
- child cannot be encouraged to show interest in anything
- baby is floppy
- weak, "whining" or continuous crying in a younger child
- older child who's confused
- not responding or very irritable
- stiff neck, especially when trying to look up and down
Symptoms of sepsis in older children or adults:
Early symptoms of sepsis may include:
- a high temperature (fever) or low body temperature
- chills and shivering
- a fast heartbeat
- fast breathing
In some cases, symptoms of more severe sepsis or septic shock (when your blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level) develop soon after.
These can include:
- feeling dizzy or faint
- a change in mental state – such as confusion or disorientation
- nausea and vomiting
- slurred speech
- severe muscle pain
- severe breathlessness
- less urine production than normal – for example, not urinating for a day
- cold, clammy, and pale or mottled skin
- loss of consciousness
If you suspect sepsis, please tell your care team about your symptoms. Although the word “sepsis” is over 3,000 years old, we are still learning every day how to better serve our patients with this diagnosis. We at Ochsner Health take this condition very seriously, and we want our patients to do the same.
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