More than one million people every year in the United States develop sepsis, and up to half of them die from it. Sepsis is more common than heart attacks and claims more lives than prostate cancer, breast cancer and AIDS combined, according to the Indiana Patient Safety Center.
This Patient Safety Awareness Week, we share information on how you can protect you and your family from sepsis.
What Is Sepsis?
Sepsis is the body's overwhelming and potentially life-threatening response to an infection. It can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and even death.
Sepsis occurs when chemicals released into the blood to fight an infection trigger a widespread inflammatory response that can be life threatening. The following complications, such as leaky blood vessels and blood clotting, can reduce blood flow to the point at which the organs no longer receive sufficient oxygen and nutrients, resulting in organ failure.
In extreme cases, sepsis can cause septic shock as blood pressure drops and the heart weakens, which can lead to death. Sepsis can affect anyone, but it's most often seen in older adults or those with weakened immune systems.
What Are the Symptoms of Sepsis?
Signs and symptoms of sepsis include:
- Rapid heart rate
- Skin rash
- Decreased urination
- Stomach pain
- Difficulty breathing
A great way to remember the signs of Sepsis:
- S - Shivering (fever or very cold)
- E - Extreme pain and discomfort
- P - Pale or discolored skin
- S - Sleepy, difficult to wake up
- I - "I feel like I might die."
- S - Short of breath
How Does Sepsis Occur?
Any type of infection in the body can cause sepsis, including even minor ones. People who have a weakened immune system, a chronic disease like diabetes, or have been in the hospital recently are more susceptible to sepsis. It has the same symptoms of infection, such as diarrhea, shivering, vomiting and sore throat, but sepsis can turn deadly fairly quickly, attacking vital organs.
How Is Sepsis Diagnosed?
Blood tests are used to check for infections, an abnormal white blood cell count, a drop in the platelet count, high levels of blood acidity, and kidney and liver problems.
Mucus and urine samples can also be taken to identify the underlying cause, which is usually bacteria. Additionally, various imaging scans can be performed to locate the site of infection. These include X-rays, CT (computed tomography) or MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging).
How Is Sepsis Treated?
Sepsis is usually treated in the hospital setting with antibiotics and other methods to help keep the organs functioning and blood pressure from dropping.
Because sepsis and septic shock are considered a medical emergency, patients will likely be placed in a hospital's intensive care unit (ICU). Doctors will initially attempt to stop the inflammation by treating the infection, often with broad-spectrum antibiotics shown to kill a wide range of bacteria. However, once the type of infection is identified, the doctor may switch to other forms of medication that may be more effective.
During the process, the patient will receive intravenous fluids to prevent an extreme drop in blood pressure, along with a supply of oxygen. Vasopressors, which cause blood vessels to contract, can also be taken to increase blood pressure. Corticosteroids, insulin to stabilize blood sugar levels, painkillers and sedatives may be used as well to alleviate pain and discomfort.
Yet the problems for as many as half of people who contract sepsis don't end there. The may experience some long-last effects, including insomnia, fatigue and joint pain.
How Can I Protect My Family?
To help protect you and your family from sepsis, be sure to be up to date on all vaccines, including flu and pneumonia. Be vigilant about handwashing, and know the signs of sepsis, especially if you or a loved one already has an infection or illness. For more information, visit SurviveSepsis.com.
Health Tip: Recognizing Sepsis
Sepsis in the Newborn