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Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (SIRS) - What Is It, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment.

Lymphocyte white blood cell
A healthy body is always prepared to fight off infection thanks to an alert and efficient immune system. However, in some cases, the immune system tries too hard to rid the body of the infection and as a result ends up harming healthy cells. This is what loosely defines systemic inflammatory response syndrome or SIRS.

SIRS – What Is It?

Infections in the body can be caused from foreign elements, burns, cuts, and other injuries as well. When your immune system senses a possible infection in some part of the body, it immediately increases blood volume to the infected site. The blood, along with red blood cells and nutrient laden fluids, also contains infection fighting components called white blood cells (WBC). Once the invasion is contained, the healing process begins. This defensive approach of the immune system is known as ‘systemic inflammation response’.

However, if this systemic response takes place at a site even when there isn’t any infection present or if the WBCs carry on fighting long after the infection is treated, then condition is termed as systemic inflammation response ‘syndrome’ or SIRS.

Causes of SIRS

There can be a large gamut of reasons and conditions that might trigger SIRS in a person. Normally, SIRS is caused by complications of surgery, trauma and even burns. In other cases, a drug overdose or an infection might have raised an internal alarm in your body and therefore alerted the immune system.

The idea here is that once the immune system senses something is wrong, it will produce a mild inflammatory response to heal the damage done by the infection. If that does not work, then it will raise its intensity of attack until the problem is solved or the body goes into shock. 

Symptoms Of SIRS

Depending on how severe the infection is, the intensity of systemic inflammatory response will also vary and with it the associated symptoms. For instance, mild responses generally result in lethargy or tiredness, while a moderate response will produce a rise or drop in temperature (called hyperthermia and hypothermia respectively) and severe responses will induce shock.

However, when it is SIRS, the symptoms will include:

•    Body temperature that is below 36°C (96.8°F) or above 38°C (100.4°F)
•    Respiratory rate greater than 20 breaths a minute or equivalent blood pressure above 32mmHg
•    Increased heart rate which is more than 90 beats per minute
•    WBC (white blood cell) count that is below 4000 cells/mm3 or above 12,000 cells/mm3.

Typically, a SIRS patient will exhibit at least two or more of the above symptoms.

Diagnosis Of SIRS

A detailed physical examination is carried out by your doctor before he/she can even think of it being a case of SIRS. Nevertheless, all SIRS victims will show three out of the four basic criteria mentioned in the earlier section. Your doctor will then perform a differential diagnosis (evaluation and deduction to rule out other diseases showing the same symptoms).

Sometimes, an underlying infection might be producing the systemic inflammatory response syndrome in you and therefore might require laboratory tests like blood culture, urine analysis, liver profile, and tests to measure cardiac enzyme, amylase and lipase spinal fluid.

Treatment Of SIRS

Given that SIRS occurring in a person may or may not be incited by a foreign infection, doctors have to depend greatly on the accurateness of their initial diagnosis. As such, associative and/or underlying conditions will have to be treated in their respective ways to slow down the systemic inflammatory response. Therapy can include the likes of antimicrobial medications, steroids, insulin etc. In some cases, IV drips and oxygen supply is also used as a method to treat the problem.

Surgeries, while rare are needed to treat specific cases such as a ruptured appendix, burns and other such conditions that cause SIRS. Apart from this, diet and exercise may also be tried out by doctors to treat SIRS patients.

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