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September is Sepsis Awareness Month

September is Sepsis Awareness Month. If you’re like many people, you may have heard the term sepsis, but know much about it. According to the Global Sepsis Alliance, sepsis is the leading cause of death following an infection. However, with early detection and proper treatment, deadly consequences can be diminished.

To help raise awareness about sepsis and demystify this misunderstood and often unrecognized deadly complication to infection, we’re sharing the following frequently asked questions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Sepsis Alliance.

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. According to a CDC evaluation, over 90% of adults and 70% of children who got sepsis had a health condition that may have put them at risk. This can include even seemingly minor infections.

Four types of infections that are often linked with sepsis are:

  • Lungs (pneumonia)
  • Kidney (urinary tract infection)
  • Skin (new or worsening injury)
  • Abdominal/Gut

Who can get sepsis?

Sepsis can affect any person of any age, from any type of infection, no matter how minor. While sepsis can affect anyone, certain people can be at a higher risk:

  • Children under the age of 1 or anyone over the age of 65
  • Anyone with a weakened immune system or chronic illness (diabetes, cancer, kidney or liver disease, splenectomy, dialysis, etc.)
  • Anyone with a severe burn or wound
  • Anyone with an indwelling catheter or intravenous (IV)
  • Anyone who has recently had surgery
  • Anyone who has recently been hospitalized

What are the signs or symptoms of sepsis?

There is no single sign or symptom of sepsis. Because it stems from infection, symptoms can include common infections signs such as diarrhea, vomiting, and sore throat.

Look for these SEPSIS symptoms:

  • Shivering, fever, feeling very cold
  • Extreme pain or feeling worse than ever
  • Pale or discolored skin
  • Sleepiness, difficulty waking up, confusion
  • feel like I might die
  • Shortness of breath

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

How is sepsis diagnosed?

Sepsis can be difficult to diagnose because it shares many signs and symptoms with other conditions. Healthcare providers look for signs of sepsis such as increased heart and breathing rates and temperatures. They also rely on lab tests that check for signs of infection that may not be visible to the naked eye.

When it comes to sepsis, remember it’s about TIME™.

  • Temperature (higher or lower than normal)
  • Infection (may have signs or symptoms of an infection)
  • Mental Decline (confused, sleepy, difficult to rouse)
  • Extremely Ill (“I feel like I might die,” severe pain and/or discomfort)

How is sepsis treated?

Sepsis is a serious complication of infection that should be treated in a hospital. Healthcare 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. These can include oxygen and intravenous (IV) fluids, 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?

While there is no way to completely prevent the possibility of sepsis, there are many ways to reduce risk, including:

  • Be vaccinated. Protect yourself against the flu, pneumonia, and other infections that could lead to sepsis. Talk to your healthcare provider for more information.
  • Be thorough. Properly clean and treat scrapes and wounds, and practice good hygiene (hand washing, bathing regularly, and brushing teeth 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.

According to the Sepsis Alliance, post-sepsis syndrome is a condition that affects up to 50% of sepsis survivors.

Physical and/or psychological long-term effects may include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Cloudy thinking
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor memory
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Sadness
  • Anxiety

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

We hope this has helped increase your knowledge of sepsis. For more information, talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have about your risk of sepsis.

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