Sepsis: The Deadliest Disease You Never Hear About
Having "The Talk" with the people you love can be difficult. Many people still don't even know what the 'S' word is. Cottage Health is here to help.
Even though you may rarely hear about it, sepsis kills more people each year than breast cancer, prostate cancer and HIV/AIDs combined. In fact, it is the most common cause of hospital deaths in the U.S., ahead of both heart attack and stroke. Over one million cases of sepsis occur in the U.S. each year, and up to half of those will die.
What Is Sepsis?
Sepsis is the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to infection which can lead to organ failure, tissue damage and death. Immune chemicals released in the blood to combat infection trigger widespread inflammation, which leads to blood clots and leaky vessels. This reduces blood flow, which damages the body’s organs by depriving them of oxygen and nutrients.
In severe cases, one or more organs fail. In the worst cases, blood pressure drops, the heart weakens and the patient spirals toward septic shock where multiple organs can quickly fail and the patient can die.
What Causes Sepsis?
Sepsis does not arise on its own. Any type of infection that is anywhere in the body can cause sepsis, including infections in the lungs (such as pneumonia), urinary tract, skin, abdomen (such as appendicitis) or any other part of the body. Sepsis can occur even after a minor infection.
What Are the Symptoms of Sepsis?
Common symptoms of sepsis are fever, chills, rapid breathing and heart rate, rash, confusion and disorientation. Many of these symptoms, such as fever and difficulty breathing, mimic other conditions, making sepsis hard to diagnose in its early stages.
Sepsis - Signs & Symptoms Infographic
How is Sepsis Treated?
Individuals with sepsis are usually treated in the hospital and typically in the Intensive Care Unit. Doctors treat it with antibiotics as soon as possible. Many patients receive oxygen and IV fluids to maintain normal blood oxygen levels and blood pressure.
Other types of treatment, such as assisting breathing with a machine or kidney dialysis may be necessary. Sometimes surgery is required to remove tissue damaged by the infection.
Who Can Get Sepsis?
Anyone can get sepsis, but the risk is higher in:
- People with weakened immune systems
- Babies and very young children
- Elderly people
- People with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, AIDS, cancer and kidney or liver disease
- Someone suffering from a severe burn or wound.
Are There Any Long-Term Side Effects of Sepsis?
Many people who have sepsis recover completely, and their lives return to normal. But some may experience permanent organ damage. For example, if someone already has kidney problems, sepsis can lead to kidney failure that requires lifelong dialysis.
Cottage is a National Leader in Successfully Treating Sepsis
Every year Sepsis kills more people than prostate cancer, breast cancer and HIV/AIDS combined. Thanks to protocols instituted by Cottage Health, the mortality rate for Sepsis is nearly half the national average.
Anthony's Survival Story
Over a decade ago, Cottage Health implemented a “Slay Sepsis Protocol” that has dramatically improved survival rates and has placed us at the forefront of successful sepsis treatment, resulting in survival rates well above the national average. At Cottage, over 80% of patients with septic shock survive, while the national average is approximately 64%.
The protocol made a number of changes to traditional procedures, including reducing laboratory turnaround times from four hours to 10-30 minutes to enable physicians to diagnose septic patients more quickly, provide the emergency department with a matrix of recommended antibiotics as part of initial treatment for sepsis patients, designate a formal sepsis team in ICU and provide educational presentations to staff so that everyone knows best practice procedures.
Other Components of the “Slay Sepsis Protocol” Include:
- Early identification of patients likely to have sepsis by lab tests and X-rays
- Initiate rapid fluid resuscitation
- Rapid administration of antibiotics after blood cultures are drawn
- Alerting the sepsis team to continue the six-hour resuscitation efforts and further manage patients in the ICU.
How to Help Prevent Sepsis
- Get vaccinated against flu, pneumonia, and any other potential infections
- Prevent infections that can lead to sepsis by: Cleaning scrapes and wounds and practicing good hygiene by washing hands and bathing regularly
- If you have an infection, look for signs like:
- Fever and chills
- Extreme weakness, dizziness, lethargy or confusion
- Signs of compromised organ function: difficulty breathing, rapid heart rate, low blood pressure, low urine output
- Excessive thirst
- Loss of appetite
- Skin or wounds that become red, hot, tender and swollen or draining pus