Sepsis: A Little Known Life-Threatening Diagnosis
September is Sepsis Awareness Month
Sepsis is the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to infection that can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death. In other words, it’s your body’s overactive and toxic response to an infection. Like strokes or heart attacks, sepsis is a medical emergency that requires rapid diagnosis and treatment. Sepsis can lead to severe sepsis and septic shock.
You may have heard the term “blood poisoning” used instead of sepsis. Blood poisoning is not an accurate description of sepsis. You can learn more about sepsis and blood poisoning here.
Your immune system usually works to fight any germs (bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites) to prevent infection. If an infection does occur, your immune system will try to fight it, although you may need help with medication such as antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals, and anti-parasitics. However, for reasons researchers don’t understand, sometimes the immune system stops fighting the “invaders,” and begins to turn on itself. This is the start of sepsis.
Some people are at higher risk of developing sepsis because they are at higher risk of contracting an infection. These include the very young (infants), the very old, those with chronic illnesses, and those with a weakened or impaired immune system. People who are malnourished can also contract infections more easily.
Know the TIME Signs
Older adults, especially those who are over 65 years old, are particularly susceptible to sepsis. More than 80 percent of sepsis patients are 50 years of age or older. The acronym TIME (abnormal Temperature, signs of Infection, Mental decline and feeling Extremely ill) is helpful. For every hour treatment is delayed, the risk of death increases by as much as 8 percent. If you suspect sepsis, seek urgent medical care.
What is Sepsis?
Patients are diagnosed with sepsis when they develop a set of signs and symptoms related to sepsis. Sepsis is not diagnosed based on an infection itself. If you have more than one of the symptoms of sepsis, especially if there are signs of an infection or you fall into one of the higher risk groups, your doctor will likely suspect sepsis.
Sepsis progresses to severe sepsis when in addition to signs of sepsis, there are signs of organ dysfunction, such as difficulty breathing (problems with the lungs), low or no urine output (kidneys), abnormal liver tests (liver), and changes in mental status (brain). Nearly all patients with severe sepsis require treatment in an intensive care unit (ICU).
Septic shock is the most severe level and is diagnosed when your blood pressure drops to dangerous levels.
Sepsis is the No. 1 cost of hospitalization in the U.S. costs for acute sepsis hospitalization and skilled nursing are estimated to be $62 billion annually. This is only a portion of all sepsis-related costs, since there are substantial additional costs after discharge for many.
The average cost per hospital stay for sepsis is double the average cost per stay across all other conditions. And, sepsis is the primary cause of readmission to the hospital, costing more than $3.5 billion each year.
Studies investigating survival and sepsis deaths have reported slightly different numbers, but it appears that on average, approximately 30% of patients diagnosed with severe sepsis do not survive. Up to 50% of survivors suffer from post-sepsis syndrome. Until a cure for sepsis is found, early detection and treatment is essential for survival and limiting disability for survivors.
Hospitals with Award-Winning Sepsis Treatment
Sepsis is a medical emergency, and its symptoms must be treated rapidly to reduce the risk of death. In honor of Sepsis Awareness Month every September, the Sepsis Alliance is encouraging everyone to learn the signs of sepsis. As many as 80 percent of sepsis deaths could be prevented with early detection and treatment. Take the time to learn the leading cause of death in U.S. hospitals.
Prospect Medical’s Los Angeles Community Hospitals at LA and Norwalk (2019-2023) and Southern California Hospitals at Hollywood and Culver City (2020-2023) have received 5 stars each year for sepsis treatment from Healthgrades.