What Is the Connection between Sepsis and Septic Shock?

T. Carrier

Septic shock is a dangerous consequence of the medical condition of sepsis, or severe bacterial infection. A specific indicator of septic shock is sepsis with an unwaveringly low blood pressure. Sepsis and septic shock most often impact vulnerable patient populations like children or the elderly. Organ failure and death present the greatest risks when sepsis and septic shock are linked.

Neonatal sepsis is caused by an infection of the blood of infants younger than 90 days.
Neonatal sepsis is caused by an infection of the blood of infants younger than 90 days.

Sepsis and septic shock usually result from a deficient immune system. For this reason, individuals with lower immune capabilities such as older individuals, children, or individuals with chronic illnesses are more susceptible to these conditions. When the vulnerable body’s immune system inflammatory responses overreach on a large scale, a condition known as systemic inflammatory response syndrome has resulted.

A dish of klebsiella oxytoca bacteria, which can cause sepsis.
A dish of klebsiella oxytoca bacteria, which can cause sepsis.

This process is a response of the immune system to toxins produced by bacteria and similar agents. With a compromised immune system, however, the body can lose control of inflammatory processes. Excessive inflammation can lead to blood clots and excessive blood vessel widening, decreasing blood flow and blood pressure. Blood-hungry body tissues then emit waste products and all affected organs work at a more rapid pace, fostering the conditions for organ failure. In these later stages, the patient may experience confusion, heart and liver damage, and a bluish skin appearance.

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If these results occur because of a bacterial infection, sepsis has likely occurred. Elevated rates or numbers in at least two of the following could signal a potential problem: body temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate, and white blood cell count. In addition, unusually low blood cell counts or body temperature can indicate sepsis. This condition worsens to septic shock when blood pressure becomes uncommonly low and cannot be raised by traditional means.

Specific conditions can take a particular toll on weakened immune systems, making them primary agents of sepsis and septic shock. Many septic-causing bacteria come from the skin or the digestive tract, so conditions arising in these areas such as appendicitis and necrotizing fascitis can nurture sepsis. In addition, the hospital is a particularly prominent breeding ground for bacteria, which makes the fact that many sepsis and septic shock cases occur in recovering hospital patients unsurprising. Intensive care patients are especially vulnerable to common infections like pneumonia.

Since bacterial infection facilitates sepsis and septic shock, treating septic shock will often include bacteria-fighting antibiotics. Medications like norepinephrine are often prescribed for septic shock. Other treatments are aimed at offsetting the damaging effects of organ failure. If left untreated or treated too late, death may be the final tragic result of sepsis and septic shock.

The death rate for septic shock is high.
The death rate for septic shock is high.

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