Sepsis ( Blood Poisoning ) is a serious medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention. It is not a disease but is instead a potentially life-threatening reaction to a disease. Specifically, sepsis refers to a body-wide inflammatory reaction as your immune system, for lack of a better phrase, freaks out. Knowing how to recognize the symptoms of sepsis is key to ensuring fast treatment of this rare but significant complication.
The terms “sepsis” and “septicemia” are sometimes used interchangeably, but the two are not quite the same. Septicemia refers to the condition known as blood poisoning, which is when a bacterial infection reaches the blood stream and begins to circulate the invader and their toxins throughout the body. If not addressed, septicemia can lead to sepsis, but one can exist without the other.
Causes of Sepsis
Technically speaking, any infection is capable of causing sepsis and cases have been known to trigger from events as minor as a scraped knee or a small cut. However, infections affecting the lungs, kidney, abdomen, or bloodstream are the most likely to trigger a septic reaction. In particular, appendicitis, pneumonia, meningitis, urinary tract infections, staph, and strep infections are the most common culprits. Additionally, there are several risk factors that raise the chance of a septic reaction:
- Being over the age of 65
- A compromised or weakened immune system
- Anyone who has recently had an invasive medical procedure or surgery
- Deep wounds or burns
- Urinary or IV catheter
- An antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria
Symptoms and Signs of Sepsis
Sepsis is a three-stage condition that triggers as a result of an existing infection. Each stage is diagnosed by presenting with certain symptoms.
Stage 1: Sepsis
The initial stage of sepsis comes with a high or low temperature, rapid heart rate, rapid breathing, and a confirmed or suspected existing infection. There are specific values for each that your doctors will look for when trying to confirm a septic reaction, but for patients, the CDC has provided the following acronym:
You might also experience increased heart rate or palpitations.
Stage 2: Severe Sepsis
In severe sepsis, the inflammation has begun to trigger blood clots and leaking blood vessels that have the potential to disrupt circulation and blood flow across the body. Severe sepsis is characterized by developing signs of organ failure including:
Stage 3: Septic Shock
The final stage is the most direct. Septic shock is when your body experiences a severe drop in blood pressure that does not respond to getting more fluids. Septic shock kills about half its victims and requires prompt medical attention to survive.
The good news, if that term can apply here, is that most cases of sepsis appear in patients who are already hospitalized and being monitored by doctors. If you begin to show signs of stage 1 and have recently had surgery, been hospitalized, or are dealing with another infection, seek medical attention immediately.
Sepsis requires prompt treatment both to eliminate the infection that is causing the reaction and to prevent the body-wide inflammation from killing you before that happens. Treatment must be delivered as early and aggressively as possible.
Sepsis occurs in response to an infection, often bacterial but not always. In cases where a patient is showing signs of sepsis but does not have a confirmed infection, broad-spectrum antibiotics will be employed immediately and tests will be run to determine what the exact underlying disease is. Once the infection has been identified, a more appropriate medicine will be employed to directly target the culprit.
The dramatic loss of blood pressure is the signal for septic shock. Vasopressors are a type of medication that constricts blood vessels and helps to increase the body’s blood pressure. They are used to try and stave off or reverse the final stage of sepsis.
3. Corticosteroids and immune modifiers
Corticosteroids will be almost certainly employed to try and reduce inflammation across the body. Other drugs that can weaken the body’s immune response are likely to be used as well in order to try and lessen the severe response of sepsis.
4. Painkillers and sedatives
Sepsis is, to put it mildly, incredibly unpleasant to experience. Painkillers and sometimes sedation are used to help keep the patient as comfortable as possible while their body battles it out.
5. Dialysis and respiration
As the body’s organs begin to struggle and fail, additional measures like kidney dialysis or artificial respiration will need to be used to keep the patient alive.
A key part of treating sepsis is removing the original cause of the inflammation. Depending on what the triggering disease is, surgery may be required to drain an abscess, remove diseased tissue or for outright amputation.
Potential Home Remedies for Treating Sepsis
While drugs and surgery may be necessary at some point, each method comes with various side effects.
For instance, the overuse of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance. This resistance occurs when antibiotics are no longer able to kill bacteria, and therefore are not effective as they once were.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hospitalization for sepsis has doubled between 2000 and 2008, from 621,000 to 1,141,000. An increase in antibiotic resistance is thought to be one reason why.
Doctors and researchers are currently examining natural strategies for treating sepsis that have far fewer side effects. The following are eight strategies and natural home remedies that could help prevent and potentially treat sepsis:
1. Clean Hands Properly
Clean hands simply don’t carry germs. Although it is basic advice, keeping your hands clean is very important.
Proper hand hygiene is often considered the single most important method for preventing transmission of antibiotic-resistant organisms and infections like sepsis.
Always wash your hands on a regular basis, especially after using restrooms and touching hospital surfaces or other public areas. Washing our hands helps us avoid getting sick, and is one of the better ways of removing germs from our hands.
All you need to do is wet, lather with soap, scrub, rinse, and dry your hands for them to be clean. The CDC even considers hand washing to be like a “do-it-yourself” vaccine.
2. Proper Wound Care
Even the slightest cut can lead to sepsis. Consequently, proper cleaning and treatment for scrapes and other wounds is essential for the prevention of sepsis outbreaks.
When under hospital care, removing urinary catheters and IV lines as soon as they are no longer necessary can also prevent infections that lead to sepsis.
Scientific research supports homeopathy as a treatment for sepsis. A study published in the journal Homeopathy in 2005 examined whether homeopathy was effective over the long-term in patients with severe sepsis.
For the study, 70 severe sepsis patients had taken homeopathy or a placebo every 12 hours during their time in the ICU (intensive care unit). The homeopathic treatment was five globules at the 200C potency.
After 30 days, there was a non-statistically significant survival trend that supported homeopathy. After 180 days, survival rate was statistically significantly higher in the homeopathy group, while there were also no adverse effects. The research team concluded that homeopathy may be a useful adjunct therapy for severe septic patients.
Baptisia is one particular homeopathic remedy that is known to treat foul-smelling ulcers and offensive breath, urine, and sweat due to sepsis or other septic states associated with an acute fever.
Consumption of enough high-potency probiotics on a regular basis could treat and prevent sepsis. This is because good bacteria can help fight the invading harmful bacteria. Probiotics line the digestive tract and are crucial for immunity since 80% of the immune system is found within the digestive tract.
A number of studies show that probiotics can help prevent sepsis, especially in babies who are at risk.
A study published in the journal Pediatrics and Neonatology in 2016 suggested that probiotic supplementation may reduce the risk of candida colonization and help prevent invasive sepsis due to fungal infections in preterm newborns, though researchers noted that more high-quality studies were necessary to support this method.
It is a good idea to supplement with a high potency probiotic, and probiotic-rich foods like kombucha, kimchi, and sauerkraut.
5. Zinc and Selenium
For the immune system, selenium and zinc are very essential minerals. Research suggests being low in one or both of them can put you at risk for infections like sepsis.
A study published in the British Journal of Anaesthesia in 2015 exposed human endothelial cells to various ranges of selenium and zinc concentrations in conditions similar to sepsis.
Out of control inflammation and oxidative stress are two signs of sepsis in the body. The researchers in the study found that selenium and zinc were low in critically ill patients with increased inflammatory biomarkers and oxidative stress, especially in sepsis patients.
Supplementing with zinc and selenium while also consuming foods rich in both zinc and selenium may go a long way in keeping your immune strong and preventing and treating sepsis.
Foods high in both zinc and selenium include asparagus, crimini mushrooms, calf’s liver, grass-fed beef, venison, spinach, and broccoli.
Bee propolis is the resin-like mixture that honeybees make with the combination of their saliva and beeswax with substances they collect from sap flows, tree buds, and other plant sources. It is also called bee glue.
An animal study published in The Brazilian Journal of Infectious Diseases in 2011 found that propolis derivative caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE) could potentially help prevent and treat septic shock.
You can find bee propolis as a natural supplement in extracts, capsules, tablets, powders, sprays, ointments, creams, and tinctures, which can all be found online and in health foods stores.
Garlic has long been used as an antiseptic and antibiotic. For instance, during World War II, garlic was used as an antiseptic for wounds, while it was also given to prevent infections like gangrene and sepsis in soldiers.
Garlic supplements can easily be found in health food stores. These supplements can be made from fresh, aged, or dried garlic, and also garlic oil.
Raw, pure, unfiltered, and unpasteurized honey is mostly known as a natural sweetener made by bees. This type of honey has countless benefits, and many studies show the antibacterial ability of honey with wound-healing effects.
Honey has been found to react with the body’s fluids to make hydrogen peroxide. As a result, this creates an inhospitable environment for bacteria.
In a study of rats published in the journal Critical Care in 2009, researchers concluded that Malaysian honey has antibacterial activity, which could be used in the treatment of sepsis.
In addition to the primary unpleasantness of sepsis, the condition can result in several long and short-term complications. The most notable one is the fact that sepsis can cause a great deal of blood clots to form throughout the body. If not dealt with, these clots can block blood flow to already distressed parts of the body and lead to gangrene in the extremities or even organ failure. Additional complications stem from permanent damage the body can sustain as a result of a septic reaction. This can include long-term muscle weakness or damage, diminished or lost organ function, and having to live with the results of an amputation.
Sepsis can be a scary condition to face and minutes count when it comes to treatment. Being vigilant and aware of what your body is telling you, especially if you fall into one of the riskier categories mentioned earlier, is the key to keeping yourself safe and ensuring the best possible outcome.
The dramatic swell in patients hospitalized for sepsis, likely due to antibiotic resistance, means that experts are looking to natural alternatives to prescription drugs and surgeries for treatment. Hygienic practices like proper hand washing and wound care, as well as natural supplements like garlic and bee propolis, may help prevent and possibly treat the blood infection.
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