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What is septic shock?
How is it caused?
What are the risk factors?
What are its symptoms?
How is it diagnosed?
What is the treatment?
What is the prognosis?
What are the related complications?
Can it be prevented?
Written by :
Senior Consultant Pulmonologist & Critical Care Specialist,
Apollo Hospitals, Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad, India
  • What is septic shock?

    Septic shock is a serious condition that occurs when an overwhelming bacterial infection leads to life-threatening low blood pressure.
  • How is it caused?

    Septic shock occurs most often in the very old and the very young. It also occurs in people who have other illnesses. Any type of bacteria can cause septic shock. Fungi and (rarely) viruses may also cause the condition. Toxins released by the bacteria or fungi may cause tissue damage, and may lead to low blood pressure and poor organ function.

    The body also produces a strong inflammatory response to the toxins. This inflammation may contribute to organ damage.
  • What are the risk factors?

    Risk factors for septic shock include:
    • Diabetes
    • Diseases of the genitourinary system, biliary system,or intestinal system
    • Diseases that weaken the immune system such as AIDS
    • Indwelling catheters (those that remain in place for extended periods, especially intravenous lines and urinary catheters)
    • Leukemia and other cancers or chemotherapy
    • Long-term use of antibiotics
    • Lymphoma
    • Recent surgery or medical procedures
    • Recent use of steroid medicines
  • What are its symptoms?

    Septic shock can affect any part of the body, including the heart, brain, kidneys, liver and intestines. Symptoms may include:

    • Cool, pale extremities
    • High or very low temperature, chills
    • Lightheadedness
    • Low blood pressure, especially when standing
    • Low urine output
    • Palpitations
    • Rapid heart rate
    • Restlessness, agitation, lethargy, or confusion
    • Shortness of breath
  • How is it diagnosed?

    Blood tests may be done to check for infection, low blood oxygen level, disturbances in the body's acid-base balance, or poor organ function or organ failure. A chest x-ray may show pneumonia. Lactic acid levels are helpful in determining the severity in some situations.
  • What is the treatment?

    Septic shock is a medical emergency. Patients are usually admitted to the intensive care unit of the hospital.

    • Treatment may include:
    • Breathing machine (mechanical ventilation)
    • Drugs to treat low blood pressure, infection, or blood clotting
    • Fluids given directly into a vein (intravenously)
    • Oxygen
    • Surgery

    There are new drugs that act against the extreme inflammatory response seen in septic shock. These may help limit organ damage.

    Hemodynamic monitoring - the evaluation of the pressures in the heart and lungs - may be required.
  • What is the prognosis?

    Septic shock has a high death rate. The death rate depends on the cause of the infection, how many organs have failed, and how quickly and aggressively medical therapy is started.
  • Can it be prevented?

    Prompt treatment of bacterial infections is helpful. However, many cases of septic shock cannot be prevented.

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