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Alternative NamesBacteremic shock; Endotoxic shock; Septicemic shock; Warm shock
Definition Return to top
Septic shock is a serious condition that occurs when an overwhelming infection leads to life-threatening low blood pressure.
Causes Return to top
Septic shock occurs most often in the very old and the very young. It also occurs in people who have other illnesses.
Any type of bacteria can cause septic shock. Fungi and (rarely) viruses may also cause the condition. Toxins released by the bacteria or fungi may cause tissue damage, and may lead to low blood pressure and poor organ function. Some researchers think that blood clots in small arteries cause the lack of blood flow and poor organ function.
The body also produces a strong inflammatory response to the toxins. This inflammation may contribute to organ damage.
Risk factors for septic shock include:
Symptoms Return to top
Septic shock can affect any part of the body, including the heart, brain, kidneys, liver, and intestines. Symptoms may include:
Exams and Tests Return to top
Blood tests may be done to check for infection, low blood oxygen level, disturbances in the body's acid-base balance, or poor organ function or organ failure.
A chest x-ray may show pneumonia or pulmonary edema.
Treatment Return to top
Septic shock is a medical emergency. Patients are usually admitted to the intensive care unit of the hospital.
Treatment may include:
There are new drugs that act against the extreme inflammatory response seen in septic shock. These may help limit organ damage.
Hemodynamic monitoring -- the evaluation of the pressures in the heart and lungs -- may be required. This can only be done with special equipment and intensive care nursing.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
Septic shock has a high death rate. The death rate depends on the cause of the infection, how many organs have failed, and how quickly and aggressively medical therapy is started.
Possible Complications Return to top
Respiratory failure, cardiac failure, or any other organ failure can occur.
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Go directly to an emergency department if you develop symptoms of septic shock.
Prevention Return to top
Prompt treatment of bacterial infections is helpful. However, many cases of septic shock cannot be prevented.
References Return to top
Vincent J, Septic Shock. In: Fink MP, Abraham E, Vincent J, Kochanek PM, eds. Textbook of Critical Care. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2005: chap 147.
Jones AE, Kline JA. Shock. In: Marx, JA, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2006: chap 4.Update Date: 10/18/2008 Updated by: Andrew Schriber, MD, FCCP. Specialist in Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine, Virtua Memorial Hospital, Mount Holly, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.