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What Is Neutropenic Sepsis?

Intravenous antibiotics is the first line of treatment in neutropenic sepsis.
Blood may be drawn to help diagnose neutropenic sepsis.
Fever is usually the initial symptom experienced by patients with neutropenic sepsis.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2014
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Neutropenic sepsis is the presence of fever and other evidence of systemic infection in a patient with an unusually low neutrophil count, a condition known as neutropenia. Neutrophils are an important kind of white blood cell, and when a patient has a low count, that person is less able to fight off infection. For care providers and patients, neutropenic sepsis is a very serious condition, and it is important to treat it thoroughly and aggressively with appropriate medications and other measures.

One common reason for patients to develop neutropenia is cancer treatment, because the medications tend to bring white cell counts dangerously low. Certain immune diseases can also cause this condition. It is important to know the underlying cause, as this can be an important part of making decisions about how to treat the patient's condition.

In patients with neutropenic sepsis, the first sign is usually fever. Patients can also be confused or restless. If a blood sample is drawn, evidence of bacteria, fungi, or viruses may be present. If the condition is not treated, the patient's organs can overload and the patient will eventually fall into a coma and die. The first line of treatment is antibiotics, usually broad spectrum, aggressive medications delivered intravenously so they will start acting quickly. A doctor may also order a culture to learn more about the source of the infection and determine if a different medication would be more appropriate for the patient's needs.

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It may be necessary to stay in a hospital while fighting neutropenic sepsis. Medical personnel can monitor the patient, supervise administration of antibiotics, and provide supportive care. If the infection appears to be resistant to medications, the patient may need to be placed in isolation in the interests of protecting other patients in the hospital. Treatment can be long, as the patient's body has minimal defenses and relies heavily on medication to kill the causative organisms and make the patient feel better.

Neutropenic sepsis is a known risk in any patient with a very low white cell count. Patients usually need to take steps to avoid exposure to infectious material, and should contact their doctors immediately if they develop fevers or feel unusually unwell. Often underlying disease can cause headaches, nausea, and fatigue, and it can sometimes be hard to identify new symptoms or to differentiate between symptoms of a complication and an increase in the severity of the original disease. A doctor can evaluate the patient to find out what is happening and develop a treatment plan.

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