Definition: Sepsis is a condition that starts with a widespread infection throughout the body and grows into a life-threatening condition. In sepsis, the body’s response to the infection creates a new problem, widespread inflammation that can lead to organ failure.

Causes: While a great deal is known about the way sepsis injures the body, much remains to be learned. We know that sepsis follows an infection and that certain people are more vulnerable, but why certain people are severely affected and not others remain unclear.

Risk: Although some people have a higher risk of infection, anyone can get sepsis. People who are at risk include:

  • young children and seniors.
  • people with weaker immune systems, such as those with HIV or those in chemotherapy treatment for cancer.
  • people being treated in an intensive care unit (ICU).
  • people exposed to invasive devices, such as intravenous catheters or breathing tubes.

Treatment: The most important way to stop sepsis is to prevent infections or treat them early. An international effort is underway to treat sepsis (the Surviving Sepsis Campaign). Identifying patients with sepsis quickly and treating the infection aggressively is essential for success, as is identifying the original source of the infection.

Traumatic Brain Injury

Definition: Traumatic brain injury involves temporary or permanent damage to brain tissue. It is usually the result of a hard impact to the head or face and is often associated with bleeding into the brain and/or swelling of the brain. Depending upon the severity of the traumatic brain injury, symptoms may range from confusion to loss of consciousness, to coma, all of which may vary in duration.

Causes: Common causes of traumatic brain injury are automobile accidents, falls, sporting accidents and industrial accidents.

Treatment: The treatment of traumatic brain injury involves the support of all vital body systems. Because the brain often swells following injury, the pressure within the skull may increase. Under these circumstances, further brain injury may occur and measures to lower pressure within the brain are used. The severity of traumatic brain injury varies greatly. Some patients recover completely, while others may suffer severe, permanent brain damage or death.

Ruptured Brain Aneurysm

Definition: An aneurysm is a dilation (ballooning) and weakening of the walls of a blood vessel. When an aneurysm in the brain bursts, it causes bleeding into the brain, known as a subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH).

Causes: Many aneurysms are congenital (present since birth). The blood vessel wall may become weakened by age, physical injury to the vessel, or hardening of the arteries.

Treatment: Usually a brain CT scan is required for diagnosis. Care focuses on treating the cause of the aneurysm and repairing the blood vessel. This often means controlling the blood pressure to prevent stress on the aneurysm, followed by surgery to repair the vessel. If the vessel bursts, care focuses on preventing further bleeding.


Definition: Shock is the slowing of blood flow to the vital organs (brain, lungs, heart, kidneys and others). Shock occurs when blood pressure and flow are not strong enough to supply blood to the vital organs.

Causes: There are many forms and causes of shock. The most common ones are a weak heart, bleeding or a severe infection.

Treatment: Treatment depends on the cause of shock but usually is aimed at restoring blood pressure and blood flow to vital organs.


Definition: A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of your brain is interrupted or reduced, preventing brain tissue from getting oxygen and nutrients. Brain cells begin to die in minutes. A stroke is a medical emergency, and prompt treatment is crucial. Early action can reduce brain damage and other complications.

Causes: There are two main causes of stroke, a blocked artery (ischemic stroke) or leaking or bursting of a blood vessel (hemorrhagic stroke). Some people may have only a temporary disruption of blood flow to the brain, known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA), that doesn’t cause lasting symptoms.

Treatment: Usually a brain CT scan is considered by the specialist doctor for the diagnosis. Care focuses on treating the cause of the aneurysm and repairing the blood vessel. This often means controlling the blood pressure to prevent stress on the aneurysm, followed by surgery to repair the vessel. If the vessel bursts, care focuses on preventing further bleeding.


Definition: Trauma can take many forms: most trauma is caused by motor vehicle accidents or falls. Less commonly people may be the victim of an assault that may involve blunt objects, stabbing, or shooting.

Causes: Trauma may result in an assortment of injuries to various parts of the body. Trauma to the head may result in a traumatic brain injury. Trauma to the neck or back may result in spinal cord injury and paralysis. Trauma can also involve the organs of the chest or abdomen, as well as broken bones.

Treatment: The specific treatment required will depend on the part of the body that is injured. Some traumatized patients require surgery to repair damage or stop bleeding, others require specialized medical treatments.

Post-operative Intensive Care

Definition: Some patients may require monitoring in the ICU after surgery. Sometimes this is planned, as in after major vascular or cardiac surgery. In other cases, the ICU admission is not planned ahead of time but becomes necessary after a problem occurs during the surgery.

Causes: There are several problems that may occur during surgery that may lead a patient to the ICU. Common examples include unexpected bleeding, low blood pressure, problems with heart rhythm, or difficulty with breathing.

Treatment: Patients whose admission to ICU was planned in advance typically require a short period of monitoring in ICU before being transferred out. For patients admitted unexpectedly, the treatment required will depend on the nature of the problem.

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