Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that can have devastating consequences if not promptly diagnosed and treated. It occurs when the body’s response to an infection triggers a widespread inflammatory response, leading to organ dysfunction and potential failure. The progression and severity of sepsis can vary depending on several factors, including the underlying infection, the overall health of the individual, and timely medical intervention. While it is difficult to determine an exact timeline for how long it takes to die from sepsis, swift recognition and immediate medical attention are crucial in improving the chances of survival. In this article, we will explore how long does it take to die from sepsis, its potential complications, and the importance of early intervention in mitigating its potentially fatal outcomes.

What is sepsis infection?

Sepsis infection is a severe medical condition characterised by a systemic inflammatory response to an infection. It occurs when the body’s immune response to an infection becomes dysregulated, leading to widespread inflammation and potential organ dysfunction or failure. Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention and treatment to prevent further complications and increase the chances of survival.

What causes septic infection?

Septic infection, or sepsis, is caused by the presence of an infection in the body. The infection can be bacterial, viral, fungal, or even parasitic in nature. Common sources of infection that can lead to sepsis include:

Bacterial infections

Bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Klebsiella pneumoniae are known to cause sepsis. These infections can originate from various sites, such as the lungs (pneumonia), urinary tract (urinary tract infection), abdomen (peritonitis), or skin (cellulitis).

Viral infections

While less common, viral infections can also lead to sepsis. Examples include influenza (flu), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and herpes simplex virus (HSV).

Fungal infections 

Fungal infections such as candidiasis, aspergillosis, or histoplasmosis can cause sepsis, particularly in individuals with weakened immune systems.

Parasitic infections

Although rare, certain parasitic infections can result in sepsis, such as malaria or toxoplasmosis.

It’s important to note that sepsis can occur as a result of any type of infection, not just specific pathogens. The presence of these infections triggers an exaggerated immune response, leading to systemic inflammation and potential organ dysfunction.

How do you get sepsis?

Sepsis occurs when an infection, typically bacterial, spreads throughout the body and triggers a systemic inflammatory response. Here are the common ways one can get sepsis:

  • Infections in the respiratory system
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Pneumonia, bronchitis, or other lung infections can lead to sepsis if the infection spreads beyond the lungs and enters the bloodstream.

  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs) 

When a UTI, such as a bladder or kidney infection, is left untreated or becomes severe, bacteria can enter the bloodstream, causing sepsis.

  • Abdominal infections 

Infections in the abdominal cavity, such as appendicitis, peritonitis (inflammation of the abdominal lining), or abscesses, can lead to sepsis if the infection spreads to other organs or enters the bloodstream.

  • Skin and soft tissue infections 

Serious skin infections like cellulitis, infected wounds, or deep tissue infections can progress to sepsis if left untreated or if the bacteria invade the bloodstream.

  • Infections from medical procedures 

Invasive medical procedures, such as surgeries, catheter insertions, or intravenous line placements, can introduce bacteria into the body, increasing the risk of sepsis.

  • Infections in the bloodstream

Sometimes, bacteria can directly enter the bloodstream from an infection site or due to conditions like bloodstream infections (septicemia) or infected intravenous lines.

Symptoms of Sepsis?

The symptoms of sepsis can vary depending on the stage of the condition. Sepsis is typically categorised into three stages: sepsis, severe sepsis, and septic shock. Here are the common symptoms associated with each stage:

Sepsis:

  • Fever or abnormally low body temperature (chills)
  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Rapid breathing or shortness of breath
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea
  • Muscle pain
  • Sweating
  • Decreased urine output

Severe Sepsis (In addition to the symptoms of sepsis):

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Abdominal pain
  • Decreased platelet count
  • Changes in mental status or consciousness
  • Unconsciousness or coma
  • Decreased urine output
  • Skin rash or mottled skin
  • Cool extremities (arms and legs)
  • Signs of organ dysfunction or failure, such as liver or kidney dysfunction

Septic Shock (In addition to the symptoms of severe sepsis):

  • Extremely low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Rapid and weak pulse
  • Difficulty in maintaining consciousness
  • Organ failure, including lung, heart, liver, or kidney failure
  • Significant decrease in urine output

It is important to note that not all individuals with sepsis will experience the same symptoms, and the severity and progression of symptoms can vary. If you suspect sepsis or experience any signs of infection along with systemic symptoms, it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention. Sepsis is a medical emergency that requires prompt diagnosis and treatment to improve the chances of survival.

Stage of sepsis?

Sepsis can be classified into different stages based on the severity and progression of the condition. The stages of sepsis are generally described as follows:

Sepsis:

Sepsis is the initial stage and is characterised by the body’s response to an infection. During this stage, there is evidence of infection along with a systemic inflammatory response. Symptoms may include fever or abnormally low body temperature (chills), rapid heart rate, rapid breathing, confusion or disorientation, fatigue, and decreased urine output.

Severe Sepsis:

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Severe sepsis is a more advanced stage of sepsis and involves organ dysfunction or failure. In addition to the symptoms of sepsis, individuals with severe sepsis may experience manifestations of organ dysfunction. This can include difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, changes in mental status or consciousness, decreased platelet count, skin rash or mottled skin, and signs of organ dysfunction, such as liver or kidney dysfunction.

Septic Shock:

Septic shock is the most severe stage of sepsis. It is characterised by a significant drop in blood pressure (hypotension) that does not respond adequately to fluid resuscitation. Septic shock occurs when sepsis leads to impaired blood flow to vital organs, resulting in organ failure. Symptoms of septic shock include extremely low blood pressure, lightheadedness or dizziness, rapid and weak pulse, difficulty maintaining consciousness, organ failure (lung, heart, liver, or kidney), and a significant decrease in urine output.

 

It is important to note that the progression from sepsis to severe sepsis and septic shock can vary among individuals, and not all individuals with sepsis will progress to the more advanced stages. Early recognition, prompt medical intervention, and appropriate treatment are crucial in managing sepsis effectively and improving outcomes.

What is the difference between septic shock and sepsis?

Here’s a comparison table highlighting the key differences between sepsis and septic shock:

 

Sepsis Septic Shock
Definition Systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS) caused by an infection. A severe form of sepsis characterised by profound hypotension (low blood pressure) that does not adequately respond to fluid resuscitation.
Cause Infection (bacterial, viral, fungal, or parasitic) Complication of sepsis where the infection and inflammation cause widespread damage to blood vessels.
Severity Moderate to severe Severe and life-threatening
Organ Dysfunction Can occur but may not be present Frequently associated with organ dysfunction or failure
Blood Pressure May be normal or decreased Markedly decreased despite fluid resuscitation
Symptoms Fever or abnormally low body temperature, rapid heart rate, rapid breathing, confusion or disorientation, fatigue, decreased urine output Extremely low blood pressure, lightheadedness or dizziness, rapid and weak pulse, difficulty maintaining consciousness, organ failure, significant decrease in urine output
Treatment Early recognition, appropriate antibiotics, fluid resuscitation, and supportive care Aggressive fluid resuscitation, administration of vasopressor medications, antibiotics, and supportive care
Prognosis With timely treatment, the prognosis can be improved Septic shock has a higher mortality rate compared to sepsis

How long does it take to die from sepsis?

The time it takes for an individual to die from sepsis can vary depending on several factors, including the underlying cause of sepsis, the person’s overall health, and the promptness and effectiveness of medical intervention. In some cases, sepsis can progress rapidly, leading to severe complications and death within a matter of hours or days. However, with early recognition, timely medical treatment, and appropriate supportive care, the chances of survival can significantly improve.

FAQ

Q1: What are the common causes of sepsis?

Ans: Sepsis can be caused by bacterial, viral, fungal, or parasitic infections.

Q2: What are the early signs and symptoms of sepsis?

Ans: Early signs of sepsis include fever, rapid heart rate, and confusion.

Q3: How is sepsis diagnosed?

Ans: Diagnosis of sepsis involves assessing symptoms, blood tests, and identifying the source of infection.

Q4: Can sepsis be treated?

Ans: Yes, sepsis can be treated with antibiotics, intravenous fluids, and supportive care.

Q5: What are the long-term effects of sepsis?

Ans: Survivors of sepsis may experience long-term physical, psychological, or cognitive effects.