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What is Sepsis?

Sepsis is a serious health condition that, unlike conditions such as cancer or heart disease or diabetes, is not as widely known or understood by the public. Yet, sepsis can happen to anyone. Sepsis is an overwhelming response of the body to a serious infection of the blood and/or bodily tissues which, unless treated promptly, can potentially become a life-threatening emergency. Any bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites can cause infections that can lead to sepsis. Absent rapid treatment, sepsis and result in tissue damage, organ failure, and death.

Normally, the body releases chemicals into the bloodstream that help fight an infection. When the body’s response to these infection-fighting chemicals is dysregulated (out of balance), sepsis occurs. This can trigger a chain reaction throughout the body, resulting in a cascade of bodily changes that can damage tissues and multiple organ systems, eventually leading to organ failure.

If a person with sepsis has low blood pressure that does not improve with fluid treatment, this means that their body has gone into septic shock. They will need medications called vasopressors to keep their blood pressure high enough to get blood to their organs. Without this treatment, insufficient blood flow can result in vital organs not getting enough oxygen and beginning to fail, such as the brain, kidneys, lungs, and heart. If the body does not respond to treatment (vasopressors), septic shock can result in death.

Any infection can trigger sepsis, but the following types of infections are more likely to cause sepsis:

  • Pneumonia
  • Abdominal infection
  • Kidney infection
  • Bloodstream infection

What Are the Risk Factors for Sepsis?

Sepsis is most common and most dangerous in:

  • Adults over the age of 65 and babies less than one-year-old
  • Those who have weak immune systems (history of cancer, on chemotherapy, or medication that may affect the immune system)
  • Persons with wounds or injuries
  • Patients with chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, lung, liver, kidney, or heart disease.

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Saint Barnabas Medical Center
94 Old Short Hills Road
Livingston, NJ 07039
(973) 322-5000
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