What is Sepsis?

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Sepsis: What You Should Know About This Unnoticed Killer

Sepsis is a quiet, but deadly condition that is a common complication of an infection.

Sepsis causes more deaths than cancer. Yet, many people have never even heard of it. Sepsis, previously known as blood poisoning, is a life-threatening response to a severe infection. Whenever you have a serious infection, your body sends chemicals to your bloodstream to fight the infection. This leads to significant inflammation that slows blood flow and ultimately damages your internal organs. Sepsis causes multiple organ failure and can quickly lead to death. In spite of significant advances in modern medicine, sepsis is the primary cause of death from infection. Therefore, it is extremely important to seek medical help immediately if you or someone you know might be suffering from sepsis. Here are some important facts about sepsis.

What Are the Symptoms of Sepsis?

Here are some of the common signs of sepsis:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever
  • Quick heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Hypothermia
  • Sore throat
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Flu-like symptoms

As the condition worsens, the following symptoms may be present:

  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Slurring of words
  • Hallucinations

In the elderly, the signs of an infection or sepsis are not always clear. Often, the first sign of an infection in an elderly person is a change in mental status, such as confusion or disorientation. Consequently, it is important to be aware of any changes in mental status and report them immediately to your or your loved one’s physician.

It is important to seek immediate medical attention if you have any symptoms of an infection. Sepsis is a medical emergency. Therefore, if you feel worse or are not getting better, talk to your doctor at once.

Who Is at Risk of Developing Sepsis?

  • The elderly and children under the age of 5.
  • Anyone recovering from an infection, surgery or wound.
  • Those that have a weakened immune system due to diabetes, HIV or cancer.
  • People with serious or extensive burns.
  • People with breathing tubes, IV catheters and other medical devices.

How is Sepsis Diagnosed?

Your physician or other health-care professional will have to diagnose sepsis. They might suspect sepsis if you have an infection plus some of the other symptoms noted above. For a more definitive diagnosis, they will likely perform a blood culture or other blood tests, conduct an MRI, chest-x rays, CT scan or an ultrasound.

What is the Treatment for Sepsis?

People with sepsis are typically treated in the hospital. Antibiotics are usually started as soon as possible. Doctors will treat any secondary symptoms, such as low blood pressure. Intravenous or IV fluids are often given to maintain normal blood oxygen levels. Doctors will try to keep vital organs working with supportive measures, such as providing dialysis for kidney failure or assisted breathing for breathing problems.

Can Sepsis be Prevented?

Although sepsis cannot be completely prevented, there are some things that can lower the risk.

  • Get vaccinated against pneumonia, the flu and other infections, such as meningitis.
  • Appropriately clean wounds scrapes.
  • Practice good hygiene. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water or soapless products.
  • If you have a severe infection, get medical attention immediately. Time is of the essence when it comes to sepsis. The longer that the condition is allowed to continue, the greater the risk of permanent disability or death.
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