Do you know what sepsis is? Sadly, if you answered affirmatively to that question, you’re in the minority. Most people don’t really know anything about this condition. At best, the general public has heard some actor mention it in passing on a medical drama. They don’t really get what it means, or how big of a threat it is.
Which is unfortunate, because sepsis is very common. About 750,000 people with sepsis are hospitalized every year (of them, over 250,000 people die from it), and at any given time, about 1 and 10 patients in US hospitals have the condition. Over half of patients who die in hospitals have the condition in some form, and sadly, the number of people who die from it is increasing every year.
So what exactly is sepsis? For starters, it’s a condition, and not a disease as many people think. It’s basically what happens when your body responds to an infection, but that response is so severe that it damages your own tissue. It’s usually caused by a bacterial infection, but fungal, viral, and parasitical conditions can also cause it.
As for who’s the most susceptible to sepsis, a wide range of people can come down with it. On the one hand, it tends strike people with weak or compromised immune systems. That includes the very young, the very old, those undergoing chemotherapy, or people with chronic ailments like AIDS. On the other hand, anyone can get it. Even if you have a healthy immune system, a traumatic injury, infection, or surgery can cause it. The most common infections that lead to sepsis are pneumonia, kidney infections, bloodstream infections and lung infections. In half of all sepsis cases, the lungs are found to be the source.
By now you may be wondering how you can identify and treat sepsis. Unfortunately there isn’t an easy answer to that, because to properly treat sepsis, it first has to be identified very quickly. With every hour that sepsis goes untreated, your chance of death increases by 7.6% percent. Once the most severe form of sepsis sets in (aka septic shock) there is about a 50%-70% chance of death.
And it’s very difficult to identify. Even highly trained doctors struggle diagnose the condition early on, because many of its symptoms can look like complications from other diseases, and not everyone suffers from the same exact symptoms. But if you do know the early symptoms, you have a fighting chance at identifying the condition quickly.
One of the biggest indicators is low blood pressure, which is usually accompanied by an elevated heart rate, rapid breathing, and a low body temperature. Though oftentimes, a high body temperature is found instead (you can see why this may be tricky for a doctor to diagnose). If caused by an infected wound, severe swelling, intense pain, and redness can be seen. Edema and decreased urination are common as well. And finally, a rapidly deteriorating mental state resulting in confusion is very common.
Sadly, those are pretty much the only symptoms that you as a layman can look for to identify sepsis early on. If you understand what makes someone more susceptible to it, and you know what the symptoms are, you can try to put two and two together, and that’s about it. You’d be fortunate to catch it early on, so it’s best not to take any chances. If there’s even the slightest possibility that you have it, go to the hospital immediately. Once there, the only treatment is antibiotics, intravenous fluids, and lots of prayers.