Imagine that there was a disease associated with 25% to 30% of hospital deaths. Imagine that this number goes up closer to 50% when patients have complications. Imagine it was fast-acting and likely to be fatal if it wasn't caught quickly. And imagine if it was rarely listed as the cause of death, reducing the attention it received and making care givers less aware to watch out for its signs before it became fatal.
It's okay if you don't have a very vivid imagination. You don't need one in this scenario. This situation is all too real. You've probably heard me talk about sepsis before, a life-threatening infection that can cause organ failure and death. I've talked about sepsis a good bit. But sometimes I feel like I'm alone in trying to draw attention to this dangerous condition.
Fortunately, I know that's not actually the case. There's a whole team of researchers called the Global Sepsis Alliance that are working to draw attention to the prevalence and prevention of sepsis. They're campaigning for sepsis to be considered a cause of death in its own right. This will help hospitals recognize the importance of training its staff to spot and respond to symptoms of sepsis right away. It also will help them better measure whether their efforts are working so they can continue to improve.
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While sepsis is most common in lower-income countries, it's much more prevalent than you might expect in the First World as well. So if you're hospitalized, you should be aware of the symptoms in case you need to be your own advocate. Signs can include changes in breathing and mental state, as well as fever or a low body temperature. If you notice any of these, ask your doctor or nurse right away if sepsis could be the cause. You want to make sure it's on their radar.
In fact, it can be wise to ask about sepsis identification and response procedures ahead of time. This will keep the issue top of mind for both you and your providers, increasing the likelihood that it will be recognized in time for you to receive treatment should the need arise. Treatment is possible, so if you have to go into the hospital, make sure your nurses are vigilant about it.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD