It’s unknown to most people but serious and life threatening.
Being an ICU nurse, I have seen it all. I’ve seen young children come in struggling to breathe due to an asthma attack. I’ve seen elderly people come in after having CPR to restart their heart. I’ve helped bring people back to life. But, the thing that I have seen most in the hospital might surprise you. When you think of what the number one cause of death in the United States would be, what comes to mind? Cancer? Heart disease? While those are prevalent throughout the United States, it might surprise you to know that sepsis is the leading cause of death in United States hospitals.
So, What in the World is Sepsis?
With September being Sepsis Awareness Month, I feel it is important for you to know what sepsis is and how to prevent/detect sepsis in yourself or your loved ones. So, what in the world is sepsis? In general, it is the body’s overwhelming response to an infection that can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, amputations, and even death.
You may have never even heard of sepsis. Most people haven’t. Yet, it is the number one killer with people coming to the ER when they are already in organ failure. Like a heart attack or stroke, time is of the essence when treating sepsis. This is necessary to protect your organs from going into failure.
Do You Know the Warning Signs and Importance of Immediate Treatment?
Here are some facts that may surprise you:
- Less than 1% of the population can name the signs and symptoms of sepsis
- Death from sepsis increases by as much as 8% for every hour that treatment is delayed
- Most cases of sepsis begin at home (up to 87% of sepsis cases) and not in the hospital
- As many as 80% of sepsis deaths could be prevented with rapid diagnosis and treatment
Most people either don’t know about sepsis or they assume it only happens to a vulnerable population. The truth is, sepsis knows no age discrimination, it doesn’t affect men more than women, and it doesn’t affect the older generation more than young children.
What are the Warning Signs?
Sepsis can start with something as simple as a small cut or a toothache that can develop into an infection. Now, not every cut or toothache develops into sepsis, but it is important to know what to look for as a possible indication of sepsis. So you may be asking, what are the signs and symptoms?
S – Shivering, fever, or very cold
E – Extreme pain or general discomfort (“worst ever”)
P – Pale or discolored skin
S – Sleepy, difficult to rouse, confused
I – “I feel like I might die”
S – Shortness of breath
If you see a combination of these symptoms and suspect sepsis, see a medical professional IMMEDIATELY. The sooner treatment gets started, the better chance you or your loved one has at surviving and making a full recovery.
When caught early, immediate administration of IV antibiotics and fluids can be all you need to make a full recovery. However, if organ failure has already started by the time someone comes to the hospital, they may need to come see me in the ICU. You may need medications to raise your blood pressure or have a breathing tube hooked up to a ventilator to help provide the oxygen you need. The longer someone delays getting treatment for sepsis, the greater the likelihood that the person will have severe complications such as kidney failure requiring dialysis or problems taking care of themselves (such as walking by yourself, bathing, brushing your teeth, etc.). It can even lead to death.
Be Informed, Tell Others – Let’s Raise Awareness and Save Lives
As a nurse, I have made it my job to tell all my friends and loved ones about the signs and symptoms of sepsis, and ways to prevent it.
Prevention starts with something as simple as washing your hands and cleaning any cut/injury. A lot of people don’t realize that bacteria naturally lives on your skin and given the right circumstances can grow into an infection from something as little as a cut or burn.
I urge you to tell everyone you know about the signs and symptoms as well as the ways to prevent sepsis. With your help, we can increase awareness of sepsis so people will seek treatment sooner, and lives will be saved.
Learn More About Sepsis
To learn more about Sepsis, listen to our latest Bryan Health podcast. Bill Johnson, MD, Nebraska Pulmonary Specialties shares how you can spot this condition, and emphasizes how early diagnosis and treatment can be lifesaving.
Paige Fellers is a registered nurse in the ICU at Bryan Health.