HealthONE - August 27, 2019

Did you know there’s a common infection complication that’s more deadly than breast cancer, prostate cancer and AIDS combined? It’s called sepsis, and it’s the No. 1 cause of non-cardiac deaths in intensive care units. Approximately 1.5 million cases of sepsis are diagnosed each year. Overall, sepsis is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States, with more than 258,000 fatalities annually. At HealthONE, we are part of HCA Healthcare, a larger healthcare system dedicated to identifying sepsis early. We use data from our 178 hospitals and more than 28 million patient encounters yearly to help us meet this goal. North Suburban Medical Center was Colorado’s first hospital to receive The Joint Commission’s certification for sepsis care.

Unlike many other conditions, as sepsis progresses, there is a “point of no return” after which a patient’s survival drops rapidly. Catching sepsis earlier helps patients in myriad ways and may save their life. Continue reading to learn more about sepsis.

What you should know about sepsis

Sepsis is a complication of an infection that can be potentially life-threatening. Just because you have an infection does not mean you will develop sepsis. But everyone who has sepsis also has an infection. Some people’s bodies respond to an infection by releasing toxins into the bloodstream, resulting in sepsis. In turn, the toxins generate widespread inflammation in the body, harming multiple organ systems in the process. If sepsis becomes grave, the result is septic shock wherein a person’s blood pressure plummets. As such, their organs don’t get enough oxygen to function. Recognizing the changes early helps to prevent death, but the risks remain significant. Our technology is helping us to develop the ability to anticipate who will get sepsis and intercede before it progresses too far. In the near future, we’re hopeful this will be the new standard of care.

Who is at risk of sepsis?

While people of all ages can develop sepsis, the elderly, infants and children, or those with weakened immune systems, and those that are already significantly ill are most at risk. Following surgery, hospital patients can develop sepsis because of an infection caused by bacteria in intravenous (IV) lines or catheters. HealthONE is a national leader in infection prevention and has instituted patient safety programs to eliminate healthcare-associated infections.

Common sepsis symptoms

If a patient gets an infection anywhere — their urinary tract, lungs or skin, for example — their chance of developing sepsis goes up. As such, it’s essential to see your doctor quickly if an infection seems to be getting worse. It’s important to note that most people who have an infection will not develop sepsis — but you have to have an infection to get sepsis.

The warning signs of sepsis, as detailed by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), include:

  • S – Shivering, fever or the chills
  • E – Extreme pain or general malaise
  • P – Pale or ashen skin
  • S – Sleepy, difficult to wake up, confused
  • I – “I feel like I might die”
  • S – Short of breath

Sepsis treatment

Detecting sepsis early is critical to a patient surviving, which means it’s extremely important to raise awareness of the signs of sepsis. For each hour that antibiotics aren’t given, the risk of death increases by eight percent. If a doctor suspects sepsis, they give the patient antibiotics and large amounts of intravenous fluids immediately. Oxygen and other supportive therapy may also be ordered. At times, a doctor might perform surgery to remove tissue damaged by the infection. Again, early detection is critical. If you wait too long, there’s a point in the progression of sepsis where a person’s survival drastically decreases. Watching for the common signs of sepsis and getting care as fast as possible could save someone’s life.

Preventing sepsis

Since sepsis only happens when another infection is present, you can avoid sepsis by preventing other types of infections. Additionally, be sure you are:

  • Up to date on recommended vaccinations
  • Washing your hands often
  • Cleaning open wounds or any cuts whenever you are injured

If you’ve got an infection, follow these recommendations to reduce your chance of getting sepsis:

  • Take antibiotics if your doctor prescribes them
  • Finish the entire round of antibiotics
  • Seek medical help if the infection or an illness doesn’t get better

In hopes of saving lives we are using the leading tools, including the latest science, computerized monitoring and “big data,” to ensure we stop sepsis early. In the future, our goal is to prevent sepsis all together.