Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that occurs when an infection is not treated properly or goes out of control. It causes your immune system to go haywire and the body begins to injure its own organs and tissues. According to statistics, over 1.5 million people suffer from sepsis every year in the U.S. alone and almost 250,000 Americans die because of sepsis annually.1
If it is not treated in time, sepsis can develop into septic shock, which is the most severe form of the condition that compromises the cardiovascular system and causes very low blood pressure and insufficient blood flow to the vital organs. To complicate the matter further, sepsis and septic shock are very difficult to diagnose as there isn’t a single test for the condition.2
Sepsis is a time-sensitive syndrome, which means that the damage increases by the hour. Research shows that the sooner sepsis and septic shock are treated, the better patients’ chances of recovery are. Here are the common signs of sepsis that you must watch out for.
1. Altered State Of Mind
Sepsis can cause reduced blood flow to the brain, dehydration, and the release of harmful toxins into the body, which result in confusion, low level of alertness, lightheadedness, and dizziness. All these symptoms can be quite intense in people who experience septic shock. Some people may also experience extreme versions of dizziness.
Experts clarify that these signs must occur due to an infection to signify sepsis. If not, they may turn out to be common symptoms of other conditions such as a stroke or fatigue.
2. Passing Less Urine Or Dark Urine
The kidney is one of the most commonly affected organs in sepsis as it’s very sensitive to alterations in blood flow and pressure. This, in turn, affects your urine quantity and quality. Low blood pressure causes the body to retain as much fluid as possible, which results in less fluid in your urine. This makes your urine smellier and darker in color.
Dehydration may also occur due to the loss of fluids through sweating because of a fever and inadequate intake of fluids. This combined dehydrating effect can alter your urine resulting in leaky blood vessels, in which fluid leaks out of your bloodstream and into your body. In extreme cases, patients might even stop peeing entirely. If you’re unwell and notice drastic changes in your urination, it may not be just due to poor hydration.
3. Cold Or Clammy Skin
During sepsis, your body concentrates on pumping blood to the vital organs like the heart, kidneys and the brain rather than to less important areas of the body such as the extremities. This causes your skin to feel cold and clammy. This situation can either remain as it is or worsen when your body goes into septic shock.
However, a cold and clammy skin may also be a symptom of other less serious or harmless conditions. You must take it seriously only if you experience other symptoms of a primary infection.
4. Abnormally Fast Heart Rate
Exercises can also cause your heart rate to shoot up. But, it is abnormal for the heart rate to increase when you’re just sitting in a chair doing nothing. The average person’s heart rate is between 60-90 beats per minute. So, if your heart beats any faster than 90, this could be an indication of sepsis.
Sepsis causes your body to pump up as it tries to combat the infection and tries to supply blood to the damaged tissues, which makes your heart beat faster to increase the quantity of blood being pumped out. Since the symptoms need not necessarily progress from sepsis to septic shock, your heart rate may or may not become even higher during a septic shock.
5. Shortness Of Breath Or Difficulty In Breathing
If you notice that you’re breathing rapidly or experiencing shortness of breath, it may be a sign of something more sinister. Experts say that pneumonia is the most common infection to cause sepsis. Just like an increased heart rate, these symptoms occur when your body goes into overdrive, in this case, utilizing more oxygen and, as a result, producing more carbon dioxide than usual.
This makes your body to require more oxygen and it meets this requirement by breathing faster, which makes you feel winded. In some extreme cases, breathing might worsen to the point where patients cannot breathe on their own.