Sepsis vs. SIRS: Understanding the Critical Differences

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In today’s world, we frequently encounter news about viruses and the spread of viral infections, but historically, bacterial infections caused far more deaths than the worst viral plagues. Today, bacterial infections are linked to 1 in 8 global deaths. Often, it’s the immune system’s inflammatory response to the infection that results in organ damage and death. To understand how this occurs, it’s important to understand the differences between SIRS—Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome and sepsis.

What Is SIRS?

The body is equipped with a variety of natural responses to stressors or insults. One of the most important of these responses is the inflammatory response. Inflammation is a critical component of the immune system meant to begin the healing process. When damage occurs to living tissue due to illness or injury, the inflammatory response localizes the injury and removes any damaged tissue. When functioning correctly, inflammation is the body’s natural healing treatment. Inflammation causes changes in blood flow and in the blood vessels. It also sends fluid with white blood cells and proteins to the site of the tissue damage. It’s only when this immune response goes awry that inflammation can turn from friend to foe.

When the regulatory mechanism meant to manage and contain the inflammation response is defective or becomes impaired, the body begins to turn this immune response against its own tissue. Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (SIRS) occurs when the body responds to a stressor in an exaggerated way, triggering a massive inflammatory response—or cytokine storm—leading to massive tissue injury.

Symptoms of SIRS include the following:

  • Fever of 104 degrees or higher
  • Elevated heart rate of over 90 beats per minute
  • Respiration of over 20 per minute
  • Abnormal white blood cell count

Any two or more of the above symptoms describe the clinical definition of SIRS.

What is Sepsis?

Sepsis is Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome as above but with a source of infection. When SIRS occurs due to an infection it meets the criteria of a clinical diagnosis of sepsis. When the body releases chemicals to trigger inflammation to fight a source of infection and dysregulation of this response occurs, it causes a cascade of effects on multiple body systems known as sepsis. Without prompt identification and treatment, sepsis results in organ damage, organ system failure, and death.

While a patient may have SIRS without sepsis as a response to other conditions such as:

  •  Severe dehydration
  • Ischemia
  • Malignancy, or
  • Bodily trauma

they cannot have sepsis without SIRS. Diagnosing SIRS is a critical component in the diagnosis of sepsis.

Early in the diagnosis process, it isn’t always clear that an ill patient with SIRS has sepsis unless they have an obvious source of infection. In some cases, the diagnosis of SIRS is the first step toward diagnosing sepsis when the doctor then goes on to locate the source of the infection. If there is no infection, the doctor looks for other sources of the SIRS response.

Early recognition of sepsis is critical in beginning treatment before organ failure occurs.

SIRS and Sepsis in Nursing Home Abuse

If you notice any of these signs, it’s essential to act promptly to protect your loved one’s rights. Reach out to a skilled Louisville nursing home abuse lawyer to assess the situation and explore your legal options.

At Gray & White, PLLC, in Louisville, our dedicated attorneys have extensive experience in handling nursing home abuse cases. We can help you recognize the signs, gather evidence, and seek justice for your loved one. Your elderly family member deserves to live in a safe and caring environment, and we’re here to ensure their rights are protected. Don’t hesitate to contact our compassionate team if you suspect nursing home abuse.