Cancer. Heart Disease. Stroke.
These leading causes of death are familiar to the general population. You’ve probably heard about cancer screenings, how to eat better to keep your heart healthy, and what to do if you suspect someone is having a stroke.
But you might know very little about sepsis. In 2015, the NC State Center for Health Statistics reported that sepsis was the 10th leading cause of death in New Hanover County.
Sepsis is the body’s overwhelming, life-threatening response to an infection which can lead to organ impairment and death.
Who gets sepsis?
Anyone with an infection can get sepsis but generally those individuals at higher risk are older, have other chronic illnesses, have weakened immune systems because of disease or medications, have been recently hospitalized, have medical devices such as dialysis catheters or urinary catheters, or other chronic conditions that may make them more susceptible to infections.
One reason sepsis can be so deadly is because it is difficult to diagnose. Symptoms are vague and varied. They may include extreme fatigue and/or weakness, fever and chills, cool and clammy skin, severe pain, confusion or disorientation, shortness of breath, increased breathing rate, and increased heart rate.
If sepsis is suspected, we immediately investigate for a cause of the infection. For example, we look for pneumonia, urinary tract infections, kidney infections, skin infections, or bone infections. Unfortunately, many times we cannot identify the cause of the infection.
Treatment for sepsis includes antibiotics for the infection and/or other procedures to eliminate the source of infection. We may also give fluids and support any organs that are affected.
You cannot prevent sepsis, but you can decrease your chances of acquiring it.
Some tips for avoiding sepsis:
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle.
- Follow infection prevention practices such as hand-washing and vaccinations.
- Maintain a normal weight, exercise, eat healthy foods.
- Don’t smoke.
- During influenza season, get a flu shot.
- If you are over the age of 65, get a pneumonia vaccine.
If you think you have an infection, visit your primary care provider and receive treatment if appropriate. Most infections can be handled on an outpatient basis with your regular doctor or provider.
But identifying sepsis early could be important to saving your life, preventing damage to your organs, saving your extremities, or preventing a prolonged illness.
If you think you have an infection and experience associated extreme fatigue and/or weakness, shortness of breath, or confusion or disorientation, call 911 or seek care immediately at your local emergency department.
To learn more about sepsis, visit Sepsis.org.