Sepsis - Symptoms

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What are the signs or symptoms of sepsis (blood poisoning)?

The adult patient should have a proven or suspected source of an infection (usually bacterial) and have at least two of the following problems: an elevated heart rate (tachycardia), either a high (fever) or low temperature (hypothermia), rapid breathing (>20 breaths per minute or a reduced PaCO2 level), or a white blood cell count that is either high, low, or composed of >10% band cells. In most cases, it is fairly easy to ascertain heart rate (count pulse per minute), fever or hypothermia with a thermometer, and to count breaths per minute even at home. It may be more difficult to prove a source of infection, but if the person has symptoms of infection such as productive cough, or dysuria, or fevers, or a wound with pus, it is fairly easy to suspect that a person with an infection may have sepsis. However, determination of the white blood cell count and PaCO2 is usually done by a lab. In most cases, the definitive diagnosis of sepsis is made by a physician in conjunction with laboratory tests.

Elderly patients have similar symptoms to those stated for adults, but the first apparent symptoms are often confusion along with chills, weakness, possibly faster breathing, and a dusky skin appearance. Pediatric patients (infants, toddlers, and children) also may develop similar symptoms to those in adults, but the most common symptoms are fever and reduced urine output. Children may show signs of lethargy and decreased age-appropriate mental status. Neonatal sepsis (sepsis neonatorum) is suspected in neonates up to 28 days old if the rectal temperature is 100.4F or higher. Other signs and symptoms for neonatal sepsis include fever in the mother at time of delivery, cloudy or smelly amniotic fluid, abnormal vital signs, seizures, and projectile vomiting.

Some authors consider red lines or red streaks on the skin to be signs of sepsis. However, these streaks are due to local inflammatory changes in either local blood vessels or lymphatic vessels (lymphangitis). The red streaks or lines are worrisome as they usually indicate a spreading infection that can result in sepsis.

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See what others are saying

Comment from: dental sepsis, 35-44 Female (Patient) Published: July 08

Two years ago I started experiencing a rash that consisted of small red boils all over my body. I went to several doctors who did not diagnose the rash. The cause was not ever pin-pointed or diagnosed, until I noticed that I have a re-occurring dental issue with an infected gum line due to faulty dental fillings. I continually told countless dentists and emergency room doctors that I had a bad tooth and they continued to perform faulty dental filling replacements. I finally saw a dermatologist who has given me powerful month long courses of antibiotics to tide me over until I can visit a dentist. I may have to extract the molar as I cannot go through any faulty dental work any longer. My dermatologist could only agree that this was a form of CA-MRSA without running any culture or blood tests for dental sepsis.

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Comment from: helosthebattle, 55-64 Male (Patient) Published: September 01

Last month my dad got sick after a few trips. He looked like he had the flu. I know he had chills and later had a hard time breathing and it felt like stomach flu stuff. When he went to the emergency room (ER) they diagnosed him to be in septic shock. It happened so fast. And when I last saw him up and around he wasn't super sick. But when he was in the ER it went from bad to a nightmare. His small intestines had an obstruction. Fatty tissue caused a blockage. Then it was like a domino effect; kidneys, lungs, ventilator, and his blood pressure dropped so low. He was maxed on blood pressure medicines. Then his heart rate was super high. We'd get small things of hope. Then something else hit. With liquid in his lungs he was transferred to a better hospital. There the surgeons found C. difficile in his bowels. Part of it was dying and they removed 120 cm of small intestines. Then his colon went and they removed that. Then his heart; he flat lined 5 times, so they put a pacemaker in. He kept making it through these miracles. Doctors thought he was amazing. Then he got sick again. His small intestines had a hole and they removed more. The man had 15 surgeries. His lungs gave him more trouble and he ended up back on the ventilator after getting off it. Then he started bleeding. That would be it. They tried to save him. He went smiling. All I know is sepsis took my dad at 59.

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