Fever, chills, difficulty breathing, elevated heart rate, extreme discomfort, and other symptoms are indications of countless illnesses, which is why doctors often miss thinking the patient has one of the most deadly: sepsis. More people die of it than heart attacks. However, with symptoms that mimic other ailments, it is no wonder that doctors fail to jump to conclusion that patients have sepsis. Public health officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) want to change that and create a greater awareness of sepsis in a race to save more patients from the deadly condition.
Sepsis does not arise as a primary disorder, and it is not contagious. It is solely a bi-product of another medical condition, such as an infection in the lungs or appendicitis. It also commonly arises from invasive procedures that can introduce bacteria into a patient’s bloodstream and lead to the condition.
The patient’s body adopts an overwhelming immune response to the original infection. That can trigger widespread inflammation, which can lead to blood clots and leaks from vessels. The impaired blood flow can lead to damaged organs and eventually death.
The CDC estimated that over 258,000 in the U.S. die as a result of sepsis every year, but exact numbers are difficult to discern. There is no test for the condition and the death certificates may list primary causes. They are sure, however, that the death rates are climbing, partly because of greater resistance to antibiotics and an aging population (seniors are more susceptible as well as those with compromised immune systems). Government reports indicate that in-hospital deaths alone that can be attributed to sepsis rose from 128,766 in 2009 to 159,690 four years later.
Reducing the number of cases requires education for healthcare providers (and the public) about preventing, recognizing, and effectively treating patients with sepsis before it cause life-threatening problems. This is particularly important for people who have chronic diseases or are returning to the hospital after a recent admission. According to the CDC, approximately 7 in 10 patients with sepsis had used medical care services recently or had chronic diseases that required frequent medical care.
In 2011, sepsis was the No. 2 reason for readmissions. Forty percent of those hospital readmits may have been prevented, according to a “British Medical Journal” piece.
Acknowledging the sepsis and providing timely and appropriate care makes a difference in the race to save patients who develop the condition. “Doctors and nurses can prevent sepsis and also the devastating effects of sepsis, and patients and families can watch for sepsis and ask, ‘could this be sepsis?'” commented CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H.
The CDC’s Website acknowledges that sepsis “is difficult to predict, diagnose, and treat.” They advise health care providers to know the signs and symptoms of sepsis. If they suspect sepsis, doctors should order tests to determine if an infection is present, where it is located, and what caused it. A successful treatment plan depends on fluids, closely monitoring blood pressure, administering antibiotics, and source control. Frieden encourages health care professionals to treat suspected sepsis cases as medical emergency and race to save more patients from the condition.
Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Saving patients from sepsis is a race against time
Washington Post: Sepsis is a medical emergency, CDC says. It can be stopped if caught in time.
U.S. News & World Report: Fast Action Can Prevent Sepsis Death: CDC
National Institute of General Medical Sciences: Sepsis Fact Sheet
Photo courtesy of Taber Andrew Bain’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons license