What Is the Connection between Pneumonia and Septic Shock?

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  • Written By: Glyn Sinclair
  • Edited By: Rachel Catherine Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 14 December 2018
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Septic shock is one of the complications that can occur when pneumonia goes unchecked. Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs and can cause the minute air sacs, or alveoli, to become inflamed. It can be caused by agents such as fungi, parasites and bacteria. Septic shock may occur when the bacteria shuts down the circulation of blood and the blood seeps through the vessel walls causing the tissue to swell up. The combination of pneumonia and septic shock can lead to organ failure, and even death.

Some of the symptoms when pneumonia and septic shock occur in the body include chest pain, fever and breathing difficulties. The condition can be more pronounced in those who are older and suffer from heart problems, as well as smokers. Antibiotics usually manage to clear up pneumonia, however, septic shock can quickly set in when patients do not respond to treatments. Physicians may diagnose the problem by taking X-rays and checking the sputum. This refers to the mucus and saliva expelled from the respiratory tract during bouts of coughing.


Septic shock is considered a medical emergency and treating and it's essential to manage it quickly. Physicians will typically treat this condition by first correcting hypoxia. This is when there is not enough oxygen reaching the body tissues. Hypotension, which is extremely low blood pressure, will be swiftly dealt with as well. The physician will then attempt to identify the exact reason for the infection and may treat it with antimicrobial drugs, or even surgery.

An X-ray that is taken when pneumonia and septic shock are suspected may sometimes indicate fluid in the lungs. This condition is call pulmonary edema and occurs when fluid leaks from the blood vessels into the surrounding tissues. Further management of septic shock includes appropriate ventilation measures, especially for those patients that are experiencing acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Patients can also be treated with corticosteroids, which are steroid hormones typically employed to treat asthma. Steroids work to reduce inflammation.

Although bacteria are the typical cause of pneumonia and septic shock, there are other risk factors for this condition. Alcoholism, smoking and contact with certain animals are all associated with various types of pneumonia. Other strains of the virus can include viral pneumonia, fungal pneumonia and parasitic pneumonia. The herpes simplex virus can also cause pneumonia to develop, although this is rare. Fungal pneumonia is rare as well but can occur in people who suffer from weakened immune systems.


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Post 4

This could have been a documentary of what I went through last month. A friend came over to my house to watch a movie. I was recovering from pneumonia, but had almost completely had it beat. My course of antibiotics had a few days left. My energy had returned. My vitals (checked that morning) were back to normal.

Anyway, he arrived and we talked for a while before starting the movie. Not halfway through it, he said that I didn't look so good. I took my temp and it was 103. He wanted me to go to the ER while I joked that he was a hypochondriac. I just wanted to take some Motrin and hit the sack. I guess

I continued to look worse and worse because he became persistent. I know now that the shock was causing me not to think straight.

Finally, he called my wife at work, who came home to get me. That's one fight I can't win. When she said get up we're going to the ER, I was amazed that I couldn't get off the couch under my own power. My friend had to carry me to the car. My wife quickly took me to the ER. By the time we got there I was hallucinating. I won't get into what I was thinking.

We got there and immediately I was intubated on 100 percent O2. Just like the article said, my blood pressure started to drop. Within 30 minutes it went from slightly low to 50/35. It's blurry to remember what went on from there, but I know alarms were going off on nearly every machine I was hooked up to. I was hearing thinks like "Start a central line! His pulmonary edema is too much, he can't get oxygen! He's in full renal failure! We're getting heart palpitations!"

Mind you, I know this didn't happen all at once. I know that there was some serious time dilation going on for me, but I couldn't believe it. Two hours ago, I was watching an old 80's action flick laughing at how bad it was when I thought it was so great in high school. I don't know exactly how long I was conscious. To me, minutes went by, when it was really a couple of hours. Still I remember the scariest words I have ever heard. They were calm, direct, clear and loud; directed not to me but to the staff working on me. The last thing I heard was, "We're losing him!”

I woke up two days later in the ICU ward. It turned out that the bacteria I had was extremely susceptible to Vancomycin, which they had put me on when I first got there, along with a couple other antibiotics.

Amazingly, I went home two days later. I had seen my dad almost die of septic shock not five years earlier. The doctor had said that if we had been an hour later he wouldn't have made it. I always had to try to one up him.

My doctor came in and for the first time, I really got to speak with him. He told me that I was one of the luckiest cases he had ever seen. He confessed that for the last half hour, in his mind, he was thinking in the back of his head that I was already dead and that while he was trying to save me, he was really going through the motions to cover himself for the inquiry into my death, basically covering his own hide. My blood pressure, creatine levels, O2, etc were just too gone.

Everyone who has a story likes this attributes their survival to something. Most people thank God for the miracle. For me, I'm an agnostic atheist. My only thoughts were not to let my kids grow up without a father. I know that may have helped, but I thank the 18 people who contributed to saving my life that day. That's how many people helped from moving me, to working the labs, to running down my records with my wife.

I thank all the scientists who developed everything used to save me and the education they all struggled through, but most of all, I thank a friend who wouldn't let me take a Motrin and go lie down to sleep like I wanted to. Sadly, I don't know back then what would have happened if the roles were reversed. I do now, and hopefully this story will help someone else someday.

I can't believe how spot on this article is. It gives me a new respect for infections in the body, no matter how small or big. It's scary how you can be feeling fine watching a movie and six hours later, nearly be dead.

Post 3

Does anyone know what percentage of people who have pneumonia experience septic shock?

It sounds like the symptoms of pneumonia and septic shock go hand in hand. I know because I had pneumonia once. I had difficulty breathing and fever. This must make it difficult for doctors to predict septic shock right?

Aside from treating the pneumonia, is there a way to prevent pneumonia from progressing to the stage of septic shock?

Post 2

@turquoise-- I think you're right. My neighbor's daughter died from pneumonia caused septic shock last year. She was only eight years old.

Post 1

My mom is a nurse and she always says that elder people as well as infants and children have to be very careful when they catch a cold or the flu. A cold should not be allowed to develop into pneumonia in the elderly and children and if it does develop into pneumonia, it should be treated immediately. Because the elderly and children are at higher risk of having septic shock since they tend to have weaker immune systems.

This is also why the elderly and children are given priority for flu shots. The flu can turn into pneumonia very quickly in these groups.

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