Sepsis Is Common and Deadly: Know the Facts
Every two minutes in the United States someone dies of sepsis, according to the Sepsis Alliance. That is higher than deaths from prostate cancer, breast cancer, and AIDS combined. Every year, six million to eight million people around the world die of sepsis, 258,000 in the U.S. alone. One in three people in this country will develop sepsis in their lifetime. It is the number one cause of rehospitalization.
Yet it’s a condition many people have never heard of, which is why this month has been designated Sepsis Awareness Month, and your family practice doctors at Cohen Medical Associates in Delray Beach would like to give you the facts about this little-known killer and show you ways to recognize it.
The Global Sepsis Alliance says that fewer than one percent of Americans can tell you the symptoms of sepsis. This lack of knowledge can result in tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths, as highlighted by a study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). It found that every hour that passes without treating sepsis increases the death rate by four percent.
What is sepsis?
When you develop an infection of any kind, your body marshals its immune system to battle it, usually successfully. More serious infections may require antibiotics, or even hospitalization, but in general, infections can be quelled.
Sometimes, however, your body’s defenses misfire and, instead of fighting off the infection, for some reason yet to be discovered by medical science the body turns on itself and begins attacking its own tissue. Soon blood pressure begins to drop, organs begin to shut down, and—unless it’s caught quickly—it will lead to death.
The triggers of sepsis can be any type of infection, anywhere in the body. Even such relatively minor infections as a urinary tract infection, appendicitis, pneumonia, or a skin infection can lead to sepsis. The problem arises when sufferers don’t recognize when a typical infection transmutes into the potentially deadly sepsis, and thus delay seeking help that could spell the difference between life and death.
Although anyone can contract sepsis, you may be more at risk if you: have an infection; have any type of chronic illness, such as kidney or liver disease, diabetes, AIDS, or cancer; have a severe burn or wound; have recently had surgery or have been hospitalized; have a weakened immune system; or, are under age 10 or over age 65.
How is it prevented?
The reason why ordinary infections can proceed to sepsis is not yet clear, so it can be difficult to prevent. Nevertheless, certain factors are known to contribute to sepsis, including improper hygiene, both in medical settings and in the larger community. Therefore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following steps for reducing the chance of contracting sepsis.
- Prevent infections
This includes taking good care of chronic conditions, and getting all the recommended vaccines.
- Practice good hygiene
This means washing hands frequently and keeping cuts clean and covered until they are healed.
- Know the signs and symptoms
Remember, sepsis is curable if caught early, but delay can be fatal.
Signs of sepsis
The Sepsis Alliance recommends using the following mnemonic to help remember the warning signs:
Shivering, fever, feeling very cold
Extreme pain or feeling worse than ever
Pale or discolored skin
Sleepiness, difficulty waking, confusion
“I feel like I might die” sensation
Shortness of breath
Additional telltale signs are clammy or sweaty skin and a high heart rate. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, along with an infection of any kind, they constitute a medical emergency. Seek treatment at once.
Sepsis can be cured if it’s caught in time. Treatment includes antibiotics and IV fluids to maintain blood flow and oxygen to organs.
The key question to ask whenever you’re feeling unusually ill, according to the CDC is, “Could this be sepsis?” In the case of sepsis, asking that question could save your life. For more information about this deadly condition, be sure to ask us.