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Sepsis: Recognizing the Early Signs Can Save Your Life

22 September 2017

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How much do you know about sepsis? If you’re like the majority of Americans, the answer is “not much.” For instance, did you know:

  • More than eight million people across the world die from sepsis each year?
  • Sepsis is the largest killer of children across the globe?
  • More than 90 percent of sepsis cases originate in the community and can occur after everyday mishaps like a scrape on the playground that becomes infected?
  • Mortality from sepsis increases eight percent for every hour that treatment is delayed?
  • One sepsis patient will die every two minutes in the U.S this year, which is more than prostate cancer, breast cancer and AIDS combined?
  • Every day, 38 sepsis patients require amputation?

Even though sepsis is very common, and can be deadly, sepsis can be prevented by preventing infections, and can be treated successfully in most cases if it’s caught early.

Sepsis is diagnosed in more than a million Americans each year, yet a recent survey found that fewer than half of all Americans have even heard of it. Since September is Sepsis Awareness Month, now is a good time to learn the facts.

Sepsis is the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to an infection. It can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, amputations and death. It’s sometimes known as “blood poisoning” by the general public. Sepsis can be difficult to diagnose because early symptoms can be confused with other conditions. It’s important to know that sepsis is a medical emergency — recognizing the signs of sepsis, seeking medical attention, and getting timely treatment can save your life.

Many individuals fully recover from sepsis, while many others are left with long-lasting effects, such as missing limbs or organ dysfunction such as kidney failure.

Sepsis is not selective. It can affect anyone, although people with weakened immune systems, children, infants, and the elderly are more vulnerable. People with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, AIDS, cancer, and kidney or liver disease are also at increased risk, as are those who have experienced a severe burn or physical trauma.

The best defense against sepsis is education, especially since most cases of sepsis begin in the community, not the hospital. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no single sign or symptom of sepsis — it is a combination of symptoms. Since sepsis is the result of an infection, symptoms can feel like the flu or the common cold. Here is a list of 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 sepsis is suspected, early treatment boosts your chances of survival. Sepsis treatment typically involves intravenous antibiotics and fluids and in some cases supportive care to maintain the body’s organs.

The most important thing to remember is that while sepsis is a potentially life-threatening illness, it can be curable when detected and treated early. Knowing the symptoms and seeking medical attention immediately is key.

Learn the story of Sue Stull, a 41-year-old mother from Oklahoma. In August 2014, Sue developed sepsis from an infection. At one point, she was so ill doctors thought she would not survive. Both her legs and arms were amputated in order to save her life. The story of Sue’s long and arduous road to recovery will inspire you, as will Sue’s subsequent life’s mission: to education others about this disease.