Sepsis (cont.)

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What is sepsis?

Sepsis is a potentially dangerous or life-threatening medical condition, found in association with a known or suspected infection (usually caused by but not limited to bacteria) whose signs and symptoms fulfill at least two of the following criteria of a systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS):

  • elevated heart rate (tachycardia) >90 beats per minute at rest
  • body temperature either high (>100.4 F or 38 C) or low (<96.8 F or 36 C)
  • increased respiratory rate of >20 breaths per minute or a reduced PaCO2 (partial pressure of carbon dioxide in arterial blood level)
  • abnormal white blood cell count (>12,000 cells/µL or <4,000 cells/µL or >10% bands [an immature type of white blood cell])

Patients who meet the above criteria have sepsis and are also termed septic. These criteria described above were proposed by several medical societies and may continue to be modified by other medical groups. For example, pediatric groups use the same four criteria listed above but modify the values for each to make the SIRS criteria for children. Other groups want to add criteria, but currently this is the most widely accepted definition.

Terms that are often used in place of sepsis are bacteremia, septicemia, and blood poisoning. However, bacteremia means the presence of bacteria in the blood; this can occur without any of the criteria listed above and should not be confused with sepsis. For example, you can brush your teeth and get bacteremia for a short time and have no SIRS criteria occur. Unfortunately, septicemia has had multiple definitions over time; it has been defined as bacteremia, blood poisoning, bacteremia leading to sepsis, sepsis, and other variations. Although septicemia appears frequently in the medical literature, a reader must be sure which definition the author is using. Some experts suggest the terms blood poisoning and septicemia not be used since they are poorly defined, but it is difficult for the medical community to disregard such terms that have been used for many decades.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/11/2013

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