Sepsis In Teens

By Sara Ipatenco
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Sepsis is a severe reaction to an infection that causes the body to attack itself. The condition can be life-threatening if it's not caught early enough or if the infected person doesn't receive immediate medical attention. Though sepsis is more common in infants and those with pre-existing medical conditions, it's possible for a teen to develop the illness as well, according to the KidsHealth website. Because it can threaten your teen's life, knowing the signs and symptoms of sepsis is crucial.

Definition and Prevalence

Sepsis is a complication associated with a pre-existing infection. According to MayoClinic.com, sepsis occurs when the chemicals your teen's body gives off to fight an infection get into his bloodstream and cause inflammation. Sepsis is defined simply as the inflammation, and it can lead to organ damage, organ failure and death. Sepsis can occur even in healthy individuals, but it's more likely to affect newborn babies, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems, such as those with HIV or AIDS.

Risk Factors

Any kind of infection puts your teen at an increased risk for developing sepsis, but certain things put her at the highest risk. The infections that most commonly lead to sepsis include pneumonia, kidney infections, bloodstream infections and infections in the abdomen, according to MayoClinic.com. If your teen has a heart defect, is prone to urinary tract infections, has suffered a serious injury or has sustained major burns, she's at a higher risk for sepsis as well, the Drugs.com website reports. Your teen is also at a higher risk for sepsis if she's been in the hospital for an extended period of time because of surgery or for treatment of another illness.

Signs and Symptoms

A fever is a primary symptom of sepsis, but since a fever is also present with many other conditions, it's essential to be on the lookout for additional signs that your teen might be developing this complication. According to MayoClinic.com, your teen's temperature might drop lower than normal instead, which is another indication that he's developing sepsis. A rapid heart rate of over 90 beats per minute or a rapid breathing rate of over 20 breaths per minute are additional red flags for sepsis. Loss of appetite, reduced urination, weakness and drowsiness are other symptoms you might notice if your teen has sepsis.

Considerations

If your teen develops any symptoms of sepsis, particularly if he's had a recent hospital stay or if he already has an infection, seek medical attention right away. According to Drugs.com, untreated sepsis in children can cause dangerously low blood pressure and lung, brain and kidney damage, so it's essential to seek treatment immediately. Call your teen's pediatrician or head to the emergency room. A doctor will run tests that usually include blood tests, urine samples, cultures and possibly a lumbar puncture, which involves testing your teen's spinal fluid. Once the doctor has determined that your teen has sepsis, he'll start treatment, which can include medication or surgery.

About the Author

Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.