Understanding Sepsis: Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention

2023-07-30 08:33:00

Leipzig (AFP). Popularly known as blood poisoning, sepsis is the most common cause of death from infections. Tens of thousands of people die every year in Germany because the disease is not recognized early enough. Questions and answers:

How does sepsis develop?

Sepsis is not poisoning in the traditional sense, but occurs when the body’s own defense reaction against an infection damages its own tissue and organs. When the pathogens spread through the lymph and blood vessel systems, the immune system floods the body with messenger substances for the immune response. This overreaction not only attacks the pathogens, but also the body’s own cells and vital organs.

What is the trigger?

Contrary to widespread opinion, the cause of sepsis is not always an external inflamed wound such as a graze or scratched mosquito bites. The infection can also occur inside the body. According to the Robert Koch Institute, sepsis most commonly develops from infections of the lungs, abdomen and urinary tract. Triggers are bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli as well as fungi and viruses. Severe Covid-19 infection can also cause sepsis.

What are the symptoms?

Sepsis has very non-specific symptoms and is sometimes difficult to distinguish from other illnesses such as the common cold or flu. The warning signs include fever, chills, shortness of breath, tachycardia, severe pain, feeling extremely ill, and confusion. In the minds of many people there is also the image of the red line moving in the direction of the heart. According to the Sepsis Foundation, it indicates inflammation of a lymphatic system, which can lead to sepsis, but does not necessarily have to occur. On the contrary, most sepsis patients do not show this symptom.

What are the consequences of sepsis?

Cardiovascular failure with a sudden drop in blood pressure can occur. Such septic shock leads to multiorgan failure and often death, especially if symptoms are not recognized and treated early. Even with optimal therapy, however, only about half survive such a shock. In other cases, amputations or other surgical procedures are necessary, and organ damage such as heart and kidney dysfunction can occur. Possible long-term consequences include damage to the brain and nerves. This can manifest itself, among other things, in a severely reduced resilience, poor concentration, limited memory, visual and speech disorders, balance problems and chronic pain. Last but not least, psychological consequences such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorders can occur. According to a study by the Charité and the Jena University Hospital, three out of four survivors of sepsis suffer from new memory disorders, psychological or physical complications.

How many people die from sepsis?

Sepsis is the third leading cause of death after cardiovascular disease and cancer. The numbers differ to some extent. The campaign “Germany recognizes sepsis” gives a figure of at least 85,000 deaths per year, the German Sepsis Foundation assumes at least one hundred thousand deaths. Around 320,000 cases of sepsis are treated in hospitals every year – the mortality rate there is around 25 percent. According to experts, around 20,000 deaths in Germany are avoidable.

Who is in the risk groups?

It most commonly affects people over the age of 65, children under the age of one year, people with chronic conditions such as lung and heart disease, cancer, kidney disease and diabetes, and those with a weakened immune system.

Can sepsis be prevented?

In addition to hygiene measures such as hand washing and careful handling of wounds and inflamed insect bites, vaccinations such as against flu and corona or the pneumococcal vaccination, which is intended to protect against bacterial pneumonia, also contribute to prevention. Above all, it is crucial to recognize sepsis in good time and to act quickly.

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