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What is SIRS?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (SIRS) is a widespread inflammation of the body with no known infectious cause. When SIRS develops in response to a known or suspected infection, it is known as sepsis. SIRS is treated as a medical emergency requiring prompt intervention and treatment, and it can lead to a variety of complications, even with treatment.

There are four diagnostic criteria for SIRS, two or more of which must be present for a patient to be diagnoses. The first is a rapid heart rate, defined as a heart rate higher than 90 beats per minute. An elevated respiratory rate is another key indicator of SIRS, as is a temperature which is either elevated from normal, or substantially lower than normal. The final symptom is an abnormally high or low white blood cell count, which indicates that the body is trying to fight inflammation.

The widespread inflammation of the body which characterizes SIRS can lead to several complications. One of the most serious is permanent organ damage or failure, caused by a spread of the inflammation to the organs. SIRS can also cause the patient to go into shock as his or her body attempts to cope with the inflammation, and it can cause dangerously low blood pressure as a result of hugely dilated blood vessels.

One of the key aspects of treatment involves identifying the cause, because it can be difficult to eliminate the inflammation without getting rid of the root cause. In the case of patients with low blood pressure, fluids may be given to increase blood volume and cause an elevation in blood pressure. Cooling or warming blankets can be used to stabilize the body's core temperature, and in extreme cases, a pacing device or respirator may be used to cope with the elevated heart rate and breathing.

Underlying unidentified infections are a potential cause of SIRS, as are trauma, surgical complications, severe burns, heart attacks, drug overdoses, immunodeficiency disorders, and anaphylactic shock, among others. Once the patient has been stabilized, medical staff will work on determining the cause of the SIRS, with the use of interviews to take medical history and medical testing such as blood draws and medical imaging to look for tell-tale signs of the inflammation's cause. In the case of patients who cannot be interviewed, family members and friends may be interviewed to gather information about the patient and the activities he or she was most recently engaged in.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By john1478 — On Jun 30, 2011

I am an emergency room physician, and the hospital I work in frequently has to deal with cases of SIRS.

The most important part of treating SIRS is first stabilizing the patient. Not only is their life in danger when they are experiencing a SIRS episode, but there is no way of determining the root cause of the condition while their body is unstable. The more time it takes for a patient to stabilize, the greater risk they have of developing long term damage to their organs, or even dying.

The most important part of my job is saving the lives of patients. Once I do that, then I can become an investigator to figure out what caused their ailment, and how to prevent it from happening again in the future.

By Testy — On Jun 29, 2011

My cousin's 15 year old son's body went into shock one evening. He was with his friends and they rushed him to the emergency room because his heart was pounding and he was sweating bullets.

The doctors were able to stabilize him, and they informed his mother that he had a case of SIRS. After interviewing her son and his friends, the doctors and mother discovered that he was abusing prescription drugs at the time and had overdosed.

Actually, his overdose was the best thing that happened to him. His mother forced him into drug rehab, and he was able to get himself off of the pills. He has been sober for about 8 months now, and he is thankful that his friends realized something was wrong, and that his mom sent him to get help.

Thankfully, his SIRS did no major damage to his organs.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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