Sepsis is an aggressive, often silent killer that moves so swiftly that by the time some patients realize there is a problem they are already in serious trouble. Most people don’t even know what it is, but in United States hospitals, sepsis is the number one cause of death. The condition is very closely tied to hospital stays.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that seven out of every 10 patients who had sepsis had recently been in the hospital, used healthcare services, or had medical conditions that required them to get medical care on a regular, frequent basis. It is estimated that every 20 seconds, someone is diagnosed with sepsis; it is diagnosed in more than 1.6 million Americans every year – and that number is steadily rising. It is also responsible for killing the most children each year.
What is Sepsis?
Sepsis occurs when there is a complication of the body’s natural response to fight infection. It overwhelms the patient’s system creating a life-threatening condition that can lead to organ failure, tissue damage, and death. It is very aggressive, coming on and spreading very rapidly. The symptoms closely mimic those of other conditions, making sepsis difficult to diagnose – especially when there isn’t much time between onset and damage due to its rapid progression. It is a medical emergency and when it is suspected, every moment counts. If sepsis is identified early and treated, the early diagnosis leads to a favorable outcome.
Signs and Symptoms of Sepsis?
Patient education is vital to early diagnosis. It is important that patients know what sepsis is and how to identify it. Signs and symptoms of sepsis include:
- Shortness of breath
- Fever or extremely cold, shivering
- Elevated heart rate
- Extreme discomfort or pain
- Disorientation or confusion
- Sweaty or clammy skin
How can early diagnosis of sepsis help?
Researchers have found that the faster a patient can get care for sepsis, the better chance they have for a positive outcome. Early detection can save lives. There are several steps that doctors must follow, Including administering antibiotics. According to the research, the chances of death increase by 4% every hour that the patient does not get antibiotics and the medical attention that they need. Patients with any of the symptoms are advised to seek immediate medical attention and provide their doctor with a medical history. That is why patient education is so key. This way doctor and patient can work together to identify the problem and begin treatment as quickly as possible. In this situation, every second counts – literally.
How is Sepsis Treated?
A blood test can diagnose sepsis. Elevated levels of lactate, a sepsis marker, confirm the diagnosis. At that point, antibiotics must be started immediately. The state of New York is taking very aggressive steps in treating the condition, mandating in 2013 that very specific protocols be followed by hospitals, outlining a series of steps that must be initiated within three hours when they suspect a patient is septic. This includes the diagnostic blood test. A study in New York that examined hospital practices for suspected sepsis cases showed that early detection and treatment is better and the outcomes were much more positive.
Who is at risk for sepsis?
Anyone can get sepsis, even perfectly healthy people who may have a cut or scratch that gets infected. However, there are three categories that are considered to be high risk for sepsis:
- Infants and young children
- Elderly people age 65 or older
- People who have chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, etc.
What does the future hold for sepsis control and management?
Other states are following New York’s lead. Illinois recently ratified a sepsis mandate that is similar to The Big Apple’s. Wisconsin, Ohio, and several other states are not far behind, creating sepsis care collaborations. Across the nation, hospitals are required to report specific sepsis care steps to Medicare. Special interest groups are helping to further the movement by providing education to the public and pushing for uniform standard sepsis care across the nation. Efforts like these, combined with patient education, will ultimately save lives.