Sepsis (Blood Poisoning)

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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What types of specialists treat sepsis?

Often, the first doctors to treat the patient with sepsis are the patient's primary-care physician or pediatrician, often immediately followed by a specialist in emergency medicine. Almost all patients diagnosed with sepsis are treated in the hospital; there are no home remedies for sepsis. Hospitalists, critical-care, and lung specialists (pulmonologists), infectious-disease specialists, and occasionally a toxicologist or a surgeon may need to be consulted, depending upon the patient's condition and underlying medical cause of the sepsis.

What is the prognosis with sepsis?

The prognosis of patients with sepsis is related to the severity or stage of sepsis as well as to the underlying health status of the patient. For example, patients with sepsis and no ongoing sign of organ failure at the time of diagnosis have about a 15%-30% chance of death. Patients with severe sepsis or septic shock have a mortality (death) rate of about 40%-60%, with the elderly having the highest death rates. Newborns and pediatric patients with sepsis have about a 9%-36% mortality rate. Investigators have developed a scoring system (MEDS score) based on the patient's symptoms to estimate prognosis.

What are the complications of sepsis?

There are a large number of complications that may occur with sepsis. The complications are related to the type of initial infection (for example, in lung infection [pneumonia] with sepsis, a potential complication could be a need for respiratory support) and the severity of sepsis (for example, septic shock related to a limb infection that could require limb amputation). Consequently, each patient is likely to have the potential for complications related to the source of sepsis; in general, the complications are due to organ dysfunction, damage, or loss. Death is usually due to multiorgan dysfunction (liver, kidney, or lung failure).

Physicians agree that the faster the patient with sepsis is diagnosed and treated, the better the prognosis and fewer complications, if any, for the patient.

Is it possible to prevent sepsis (blood poisoning)?

Risk factors that lead to sepsis can be reduced by many methods. Perhaps the most important way to reduce the chance for sepsis is to first prevent any infections. Vaccines, good hygiene, hand washing, and avoiding sources of infection are excellent preventive methods. If infection occurs, immediate treatment of any infection before it has a chance to spread into the blood is likely to prevent sepsis. This is especially important in patients who are at greater risk for infection such as those who have suppressed immune systems, those with cancer, people with diabetes, or elderly patients.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/4/2016

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