What Happens When Your Body Goes Into Septic Shock?

What is septic shock?

Sepsis causes reduced blood pressure despite an adequate amount of blood in the system lowering the blood flow to vital organs. Septic shock occurs when organs begin to shut down due to sepsis.
Sepsis causes reduced blood pressure despite an adequate amount of blood in the system lowering the blood flow to vital organs. Septic shock occurs when organs begin to shut down due to sepsis.

If you have ever had a medical procedure, you know that doctors are always worried about infection after an operation. You're talked to about the signs of infection and given medication that helps prevent it. Doctors discuss how to care for the wound and keep it clean.

Sometimes, however, infections happen regardless of the precautions you take with a surgical wound or other injuries. If not treated, infections can lead to a condition called sepsis.

Your body fights infections with a built-in response mechanism called the immune system. Sometimes, the body responds with chemicals in overwhelming amounts, triggering an out-of-balance reaction within the body that leads to rampant inflammation. This is sepsis, and it can quickly cause damage to multiple organs, even shutting them down. Doctors call this septic shock. It can happen rapidly, and it is a life-threatening condition.

Sometimes, people can develop an infection without even being aware of it. In the U.S., 1.7 million adults develop sepsis every year, with close to 270,000 deaths from the condition. Without proper care and treatment, an infection can lead to sepsis and septic shock. This makes it vital to know the signs of sepsis and septic shock so that you can get treatment immediately if you have an infection.

Signs and symptoms of septic shock

Some of the signs that you have sepsis or septic shock include:

When to see the doctor for septic shock

Septic shock is not a condition that should be waited out until it gets better. It is preceded by warning signs that indicate you should seek help quickly. Because septic shock is the end state of systemic infection and failure, it is imperative that you get to a doctor as soon as you notice that you have symptoms of sepsis.

If any are present, see your doctor or go to the emergency room immediately. Untreated infections can turn into sepsis within a short time.

Causes of septic shock

Worldwide, the primary causes of sepsis and septic shock are diarrheal diseases and lower respiratory infections. Diarrheal diseases result from infections from parasites, bacteria, and viruses.

Lower respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia can lead to sepsis if not treated.

When the body's immune system senses an infection, it releases white blood cells and chemicals into the bloodstream to fight it. Four conditions are signs of an infection:

  • A high fever or very low body temperature
  • An elevated heart rate
  • An elevated breathing rate
  • A high white blood cell count

If two of the conditions are met, the body releases an unbalanced volume of chemicals, which causes system-wide inflammation, or systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS).

Sepsis causes reduced blood pressure despite an adequate amount of blood in the system. This lowers the blood flow to vital organs because the body shifts the flow to the heart and brain. Septic shock occurs when organs begin to shut down due to sepsis.

People who are most susceptible to septic shock include:

  • Pregnant women
  • Young children
  • People with chronic conditions
  • People with a weakened immune system


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Diagnosing septic shock

If you're being tested for septic shock, it's more than likely that you're already hospitalized for sepsis. A doctor will check your entire body for infection and do a complete workup of your blood. This means they have to draw blood, test your blood count and blood chemistry, and check your body's pH (acid to base) balance.

Tests are run to look for bacteria, viruses, or fungi that might be causing the infection, and your organs are checked for their function or failure. Other tests your doctor might use are a urinary test for infection and chest X-rays to look for infections in your lower respiratory system.

Treatments for septic shock

Because mortality rates for septic shock are high, about 40%, it is essential to seek medical attention immediately upon noticing any signs of sepsis. If the condition is caught early, the chances of surviving septic shock increase dramatically.

If you're in septic shock, you'll likely be admitted to the intensive care unit at the hospital. Treatments for the condition are based on the symptoms you're experiencing and the condition of your system. Common treatments include:

  • Oxygen
  • Dialysis
  • Intravenous fluids
  • Surgery
  • Sedatives
  • A ventilator
  • Antibiotics and medicines for blood pressure

During diagnosis and treatment, the doctor may vary the types of medicines and their routines to treat different symptoms as they arise. Septic shock requires constant monitoring and quick responses on the part of doctors. As organs begin to shut down, the doctors will need to focus on those areas and work to defeat the infection and the runaway immune response.

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Sepsis."

Mayo Clinic: "Sepsis."

MedlinePlus: "Septic shock."

Nature Reviews Disease Primers: "Sepsis and Septic Shock."

StatPearls: "Septic Shock."

World Health Organization: "Diarrhoeal disease."

World Health Organization: "Sepsis."