Signs of sepsis after surgery may include fever and chills, rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing, and altered mental status. Recognizing the early warning signs of sepsis is crucial, as it is a severe medical condition that can be life-threatening. If you suspect the onset of sepsis, it is imperative to seek medical attention immediately to avoid adverse outcomes.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Sepsis After Surgery
Sepsis is a severe medical condition that can cause a range of symptoms. Sepsis can lead to septic shock due to a sudden drop in blood pressure. This can result in major organ failure and impaired functioning of essential body systems such as the kidneys, liver, lungs, and central nervous system, due to inadequate blood flow.
Possible indications of sepsis are:
- Mental confusion or disorientation
- Difficulty breathing
- High heart rate or low blood pressure
- Fever, chills, or feeling excessively cold
- Severe discomfort or pain
- Sweaty or clammy skin.
In severe cases, sepsis can lead to death. If you have a loved one who has passed away from sepsis caused by medical negligence, you may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. A lawyer will be able to help you determine how much a wrongful death lawsuit is worth.
Fever and Chills
Average body temperature is around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius). This may fluctuate slightly. However, a temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.7 degrees Celsius) is considered to be hyperthermia or fever. When you have an infection, your body’s temperature usually rises as it tries to fight off the infection. Some people may experience a decrease in body temperature (hypothermia) instead of an increase, which can be a sign of sepsis. Therefore, any change in body temperature, whether it is high or low, can be an indication of sepsis.
Rapid Heart Rate and Low Blood Pressure
When you get an infection, a common reaction of the body is to dilate the blood vessels, which leads to a drop in blood pressure. This is an overreaction to the infection in the bloodstream. As a result, the body struggles to deliver enough blood and oxygen to vital organs.
In response, your heart rate may increase, even when you’re not active. A normal heart rate ranges from 60 to 90 beats per minute, so if you check your pulse and find it to be above 90 to 100 beats per minute, it could be an indication of sepsis. During sepsis, the body is in overdrive mode as it fights the infection and tries to increase blood flow to damaged tissues.
Increased Respiratory Rate and Difficulty Breathing
If you find yourself breathing rapidly or experiencing shortness of breath, it may be an indication of sepsis. Sepsis is usually caused by an infection, with pneumonia being the most common culprit. These symptoms, along with an increased heart rate, are a result of your body functioning in overdrive. Your body is consuming more oxygen and producing more carbon dioxide than usual, which results in a need for more oxygen and causes you to breathe faster. In some cases, the patient’s breathing may worsen to the point where he or she can no longer breathe on his or her own.
Confusion and Altered Mental Status
If you are experiencing confusion, decreased level of alertness, and lightheadedness or dizziness, it could be due to low blood flow to the brain, dehydration, or the harmful toxins released during sepsis. In case of septic shock, these symptoms may be more severe than you’ve experienced before. These symptoms must be present with an infection to indicate sepsis, as they are also common symptoms of other issues such as a stroke (confusion) or fatigue.
Wound Redness, Swelling, and Drainage
If a wound is not treated properly, it can provide a gateway for viruses and bacteria to enter the bloodstream, which can cause an infection leading to sepsis.
Signs of an infected wound include pus or fluid buildup that is cloudy, green, or foul-smelling; red skin around the injury, which is a sign of irritation; swelling that persists for several days; a yellowish crust or pimple-like bumps around or on the wound; sores that resemble blisters or pockets of fluid around the area; and increasing pain over time.
If the wound hasn’t healed and looks the same after 10 days, the patient may have sepsis.
Risk Factors for Developing Sepsis After Surgery
After surgery, risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing sepsis, including:
Infection at the Surgical Site
Infected incisions are caused by germs, which can enter a surgical wound. They do this through various means, such as contact with a contaminated caregiver or surgical instrument, airborne germs, or germs already present on or inside your body that spread into the wound.
The degree of risk for a surgical site infection (SSI) depends on the type of surgical wound. There are four classifications for surgical wounds:
- Clean wounds: These are not inflamed or contaminated and do not involve operating on an internal organ.
- Clean-contaminated wounds: These involve operating on an internal organ, but there is no evidence of infection at the time of surgery.
- Contaminated wounds: These involve operating on an internal organ, with a spillage of contents from the organ into the wound.
- Dirty wounds: These are wounds in which a known infection is present at the time of surgery.
If you develop sepsis due to some form of negligence by a doctor, you may be wondering – can you sue for a surgical error? A medical malpractice lawyer can help you file a medical malpractice lawsuit to hold the responsible person liable for your damages.
Pre-Existing Health Conditions
Having pre-existing conditions like high blood pressure, heart or lung disease, obesity, or diabetes can make it harder for the immune system to fight infections. If infected, the body finds it even more challenging to fight the infection due to its already compromised state. Severe inflammation caused by such conditions can harm healthy tissues and organs, making medical conditions worse. Pre-existing conditions that increase the likelihood of contracting sepsis are asthma, autoimmune diseases, cancer, COPD, heart conditions, hypertension, kidney/liver disease, obesity, smoking, and type 1 or 2 diabetes.
Your immune system acts as a shield against various illnesses. It recognizes potential diseases and attacks harmful bacteria, viruses, and other microbes to keep you healthy. However, if your immune system doesn’t work properly, it can’t protect you from infections. Many people suffer from an impaired immune system due to various reasons, which makes them more susceptible to infections and increases their risk of developing sepsis. These infections can also be more severe than usual.
Preventative Measures to Reduce the Risk of Sepsis
Practicing good hygiene, proper wound care, and timely antibiotics is key to reducing the risk of sepsis.
Adhering to Proper Hand Hygiene Practices
Maintaining proper hand hygiene may prevent the spread of bacteria. You should wash your hands using soap and water or use hand sanitizer. It is especially crucial to do so after using the bathroom, blowing your nose, before eating, and after exposure to large groups or public places.
Your hands may contain bacteria, which can encounter your wound if you touch it. This could allow bacteria to enter your wound, causing an infection. Practicing proper hand hygiene may prevent bacteria on your hands, thus eliminating any chance of getting bacteria into wounds when you touch them.
Following Post-Operative Wound Care Instructions
To ensure a successful recovery and prevent infection, it’s crucial to follow your medical team’s preparation instructions. You should use special soaps or cleansers if needed, and keep the dressing clean and dry. Wash your hands before cleaning the surgical site or changing the dressing. Follow medication instructions provided to you and avoid applying anything to the surgical site unless directed by your health provider.
Timely Administration of Antibiotics
Prophylactic antibiotics are a type of antibiotics that are taken to prevent an infection from occurring. Normally, antibiotics are taken when you already have an infection. However, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics beforehand if you are at a high risk of developing an infection.
Antibiotics are the primary method of treating sepsis by killing bacteria or stopping them from reproducing. Your doctor may prescribe them to prevent or treat sepsis after surgery. Early treatment is key to preventing complications.
It is important to take antibiotics only when they are necessary and exactly as prescribed. To ensure the effectiveness of the medication, follow the instructions regarding how it should be taken – with or without food, before or after meals. Take the medication on time and complete the full course, even if you feel better earlier. The symptoms may disappear before the bacteria have been eliminated, so it is critical to finish the full course of antibiotics. Finally, store the antibiotics as directed to preserve their strength.