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Sepsis

Disease caused by the spread of bacteria or toxins in the bloodstream.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Cancer Institute)

About Sepsis

Sepsis is a serious medical condition caused by an overwhelming immune response to infection. Immune chemicals released into the blood to combat the infection trigger widespread inflammation, which leads to blood clots and leaky vessels. This results in impaired blood flow, which damages the body's organs by depriving them of nutrients and oxygen.

In severe cases, one or more organs fail. In the worst cases, blood pressure drops, the heart weakens and the patient spirals toward septic shock. Once this happens, multiple organs - lungs, kidneys, liver - may quickly fail and the patient can die.

Sepsis is a major challenge in the intensive care unit, where it's one of the leading causes of death. It arises unpredictably and can progress rapidly.

What causes sepsis?

Sepsis does not arise on its own. It stems from another medical condition such as an infection in the lungs, urinary tract, skin, abdomen (such as appendicitis) or other part of the body. Invasive medical procedures like the insertion of a vascular catheter can introduce bacteria into the bloodstream and bring on the condition...Read more about Sepsis
NIH - National Institute of General Medical Sciences

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Adjustment of antimicrobial agents for adults with sepsis, severe sepsis or septic shock

Broad‐spectrum antimicrobial treatment is defined as the use of an antibiotic or a combination of antibiotics which act against a wide range of disease‐causing bacteria. Broad‐spectrum antimicrobial treatment can reduce mortality rates in patients with sepsis, severe sepsis or septic shock. Sepsis is a serious medical condition which is characterized by an inflammatory response to an infection that can affect the whole body. The patient may develop this inflammatory response to microbes in their blood, urine, lungs, skin or other tissues. However, there is a risk that empirical broad‐spectrum antimicrobial treatment can expose patients to overuse of antimicrobials and increase the resistance of micro‐organisms to treatment. De‐escalation has been proposed as a means of adjusting initial, adequate broad‐spectrum treatment by changing the antimicrobial agent or discontinuing an antimicrobial combination according to the patient's culture results (a means of identifying the microbe causing the infection). In this updated Cochrane review we searched the databases until October 2012. We found no published randomized controlled trials (RCTs). We found one ongoing RCT. There is no adequate or direct evidence on whether de‐escalation of antimicrobial agents is effective and safe for adults with sepsis, severe sepsis or septic shock. Appropriate studies are needed to investigate the potential benefits proposed by de‐escalation treatment.

Antibiotic regimens for suspected early neonatal sepsis

Antibiotics for newborn infants that might have blood infections when aged less than 48 hours. Blood infection (sepsis) can make newborn infants seriously ill or even kill them. Sepsis in newborns less than 48 hours old is called early neonatal sepsis. It is usually caused by bacteria passed from the mother. Doctors often give antibiotics if they suspect this dangerous condition because it can be difficult to tell if a newborn has early neonatal sepsis. Certain antibiotics can have significant side effects and their use can also lead to antibiotic resistance, which results in worse infection and possible damage to the intestines, kidneys, liver, or hearing. The authors of this review studied the medical literature to find out which kinds of antibiotics are best for suspected early neonatal sepsis, and what side effects these antibiotics cause. They found 15 relevant studies, but only two of these studies focused on infants less than 48 hours old. The two studies included a total of 127 newborns and compared newborns who received one antibiotic (monotherapy) to infants who received more than one antibiotic (combination therapy). There were no differences between the two groups. Both of the studies were published in the 1980s and are probably out of date. The authors of this review concluded that there is no evidence for using a particular kind of antibiotic for early neonatal sepsis.

Oral lactoferrin for the treatment of sepsis and necrotizing enterocolitis in neonates

Newborn babies, especially those born prematurely, are at risk from infections in the blood (sepsis) and/or gastrointestinal inflammation and injury (necrotizing enterocolitis). A number of babies with sepsis or necrotizing enterocolitis die or suffer from long‐term brain and lung damage in spite of treatment with antibiotics. Lactoferrin, a substance normally present in human milk, may be effective against infections and gastrointestinal injury. This review searched for studies that used lactoferrin to treat babies with infection or gastrointestinal injury and found none. In view of the potential usefulness of lactoferrin, we recommend that well designed studies be done in the future to address this issue.

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Summaries for consumers

Adjustment of antimicrobial agents for adults with sepsis, severe sepsis or septic shock

Broad‐spectrum antimicrobial treatment is defined as the use of an antibiotic or a combination of antibiotics which act against a wide range of disease‐causing bacteria. Broad‐spectrum antimicrobial treatment can reduce mortality rates in patients with sepsis, severe sepsis or septic shock. Sepsis is a serious medical condition which is characterized by an inflammatory response to an infection that can affect the whole body. The patient may develop this inflammatory response to microbes in their blood, urine, lungs, skin or other tissues. However, there is a risk that empirical broad‐spectrum antimicrobial treatment can expose patients to overuse of antimicrobials and increase the resistance of micro‐organisms to treatment. De‐escalation has been proposed as a means of adjusting initial, adequate broad‐spectrum treatment by changing the antimicrobial agent or discontinuing an antimicrobial combination according to the patient's culture results (a means of identifying the microbe causing the infection). In this updated Cochrane review we searched the databases until October 2012. We found no published randomized controlled trials (RCTs). We found one ongoing RCT. There is no adequate or direct evidence on whether de‐escalation of antimicrobial agents is effective and safe for adults with sepsis, severe sepsis or septic shock. Appropriate studies are needed to investigate the potential benefits proposed by de‐escalation treatment.

Antibiotic regimens for suspected early neonatal sepsis

Antibiotics for newborn infants that might have blood infections when aged less than 48 hours. Blood infection (sepsis) can make newborn infants seriously ill or even kill them. Sepsis in newborns less than 48 hours old is called early neonatal sepsis. It is usually caused by bacteria passed from the mother. Doctors often give antibiotics if they suspect this dangerous condition because it can be difficult to tell if a newborn has early neonatal sepsis. Certain antibiotics can have significant side effects and their use can also lead to antibiotic resistance, which results in worse infection and possible damage to the intestines, kidneys, liver, or hearing. The authors of this review studied the medical literature to find out which kinds of antibiotics are best for suspected early neonatal sepsis, and what side effects these antibiotics cause. They found 15 relevant studies, but only two of these studies focused on infants less than 48 hours old. The two studies included a total of 127 newborns and compared newborns who received one antibiotic (monotherapy) to infants who received more than one antibiotic (combination therapy). There were no differences between the two groups. Both of the studies were published in the 1980s and are probably out of date. The authors of this review concluded that there is no evidence for using a particular kind of antibiotic for early neonatal sepsis.

Oral lactoferrin for the treatment of sepsis and necrotizing enterocolitis in neonates

Newborn babies, especially those born prematurely, are at risk from infections in the blood (sepsis) and/or gastrointestinal inflammation and injury (necrotizing enterocolitis). A number of babies with sepsis or necrotizing enterocolitis die or suffer from long‐term brain and lung damage in spite of treatment with antibiotics. Lactoferrin, a substance normally present in human milk, may be effective against infections and gastrointestinal injury. This review searched for studies that used lactoferrin to treat babies with infection or gastrointestinal injury and found none. In view of the potential usefulness of lactoferrin, we recommend that well designed studies be done in the future to address this issue.

See all (153)

Terms to know

Bacteria
A large group of single-cell microorganisms. Some cause infections and disease in animals and humans. The singular of bacteria is bacterium.
Bacterial Infections
An acute infectious disorder caused by gram-positive or gram-negative bacteria.
Immune System
The body's system for protecting itself from viruses and bacteria or any foreign substances.
Inflammation
Redness, swelling, pain, and/or a feeling of heat in an area of the body. This is a protective reaction to injury, disease, or irritation of the tissues.
Microbes
A microscopic living organism. Examples include bacteria, protozoa, and some fungi and parasites. Viruses are also called microbes.

More about Sepsis

Photo of an adult

Also called: Septicaemia, Septicemia, Blood poisoning, Toxemia, Toxaemia, Septic

Other terms to know: See all 5
Bacteria, Bacterial Infections, Immune System

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