September is About Surviving Sepsis

According to the Global Sepsis Alliance, sepsis is the leading cause
of death following an infection, but with early detection and proper treatment,
deadly consequences can be diminished.

The following FAQ are according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and aim to demystify the often misunderstood and unrecognized deadly complication to infection.

What is sepsis? Sepsis is the body’s overwhelming and potentially life-threatening response to an infection. It can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and even death.
What causes sepsis? Any type of infection, anywhere in the body, can cause sepsis. This can include seemingly minor infections on the skin to urinary tract
infections, pneumonia or appendicitis. How common is sepsis? According to the CDC, there are more than 1 million cases of sepsis each year, and up to half of the people who become septic will die. Who can get sepsis? Sepsis can affect any person of any age, from any type of infection, no matter how minor. Are some people more at risk for getting sepsis?

While sepsis can affect anyone, you may be at a higher risk if you:
• Have a weakened immune system
• Are under age 10 or over age 65
• Have an indwelling catheter or IV
• Recently had surgery or have been hospitalized
• Have a chronic illness (diabetes, AIDS, cancer, kidney or liver disease, etc.)
• Have a severe burn or wound

What are the signs or symptoms of sepsis? There is no single sign or symptom of
sepsis. Because sepsis stems from infection, symptoms can include common infection signs, such as diarrhea, vomiting and sore throat. Additionally, symptoms can include any of the following:
• Shivering, fever, feeling very cold
• Extreme pain or feeling worse than ever
• Pale or discolored skin
• Sleepiness, difficulty waking up, confusion
• I feel like I might die
• Shortness of breath

If you have an infection along with any of these symptoms, you should seek
medical treatment immediately.

How is sepsis diagnosed? Sepsis can be difficult to diagnose because it shares many signs and symptoms with other conditions. Health care providers look for signs of sepsis like increased heart and breathing rates and temperature. They also rely on lab tests that check for signs of infection that may not be visible to the naked eye.

How is sepsis treated? Sepsis is a serious complication of infection that should be
treated in a hospital. Health care providers typically administer antibiotics and work
to treat the infection, keep vital organs healthy and prevent a drop in blood pressure.
In some cases, other types of treatment may be required, including oxygen and intravenous (IV) fluids, or assisted breathing with a machine or kidney dialysis. In severe cases, surgery may be required to remove tissue damaged by infection.

How can I prevent sepsis? Although there is no way to completely prevent the
possibility of sepsis, there are many ways to reduce your risk including:
• Be vaccinated. Protect yourself against the flu, pneumonia and
other infections that could lead to sepsis. Talk to your health care provider for more information.
• Be thorough. Properly clean and treat scrapes and wounds and practice good hygiene (i.e. hand washing, bathing regularly).
• Be vigilant. If you have an infection, look for signs like fever, chills, rapid breathing and heart rate, confusion and disorientation.

Are there any long-term effects of sepsis? Many sepsis survivors recover completely, and their lives return to normal. However, some people may experience organ damage, tissue loss or may require amputation of arms or legs. Additionally, according to the Sepsis Alliance, post-sepsis syndrome is a condition that affects up to 50 percent of sepsis survivors. They are left with physical and/or psychological long-term effects, such as:
• Insomnia, difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep
• Nightmares, vivid hallucinations and panic attacks
• Disabling muscle and joint pains
• Extreme fatigue
• Poor concentration
• Decreased mental (cognitive) functioning
• Loss of self-esteem and self-belief

If you suspect that you or a loved one has post-sepsis syndrome, talk to a health care provider about resources for emotional and psychological assistance.
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