You Don’t Have to Die From Sepsis

Dr. Frank Shallenberger, MD

January 16, 2023


I’ve told you in the past about a lifesaving program one hospital has developed to help nurses recognize symptoms of sepsis, an often-fatal condition, in their patients.

As rates of sepsis are on the rise, I hope that more and more hospitals will follow this lead and provide their staff with the knowledge and training they need to recognize sepsis before it escalates.

But until that happens, I think it’s important for all of us to be able to identify its symptoms.

If you notice any of these in yourself or a loved one, be sure to get medical attention and ask the doctor to consider sepsis as a possible diagnosis.

The sepsis syndrome goes through three stages: sepsis, severe sepsis, and septic shock. The earlier you catch it, the greater the chances of survival.

First, sepsis is characterized by at least two of these symptoms, accompanied by a likely infection: temperature higher than 101° or lower than 96.8°, heart rate above 90 beats per minute, or respiratory rate above 20 breaths per minute.

The signs that sepsis has become severe are as follows: a significant drop in urine output, a sudden change in mental state, decrease in platelet count, breathing difficulties, abnormal heart pumping, and abdominal pain.

The presence of even one of these symptoms could indicate organ failure, so immediate medical attention is necessary. Septic shock involves the symptoms of severe sepsis compounded by extremely low blood pressure that can’t be corrected simply by replacing fluids.

Keep in mind that sepsis most often occurs in people who are already in the hospital and vulnerable to infection. So don’t panic if you’re just running a fever at home. However, if you’re recovering from surgery, a previous hospitalization, or another infection, particularly pneumonia or an abdominal, kidney, or bloodstream infection, and begin to notice sepsis symptoms, don’t wait to get help.

Other risk factors include being very young or above the age of 65; having a compromised immune system, particularly due to HIV, cancer treatment, or transplant drugs; being severely sick or injured already; or having an invasive device, such as an intravenous catheter or breathing tube.

While septic shock is fatal for more than half of patients, the majority of people can recover from the initial stage of sepsis. That’s why it’s important to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms and take action right away. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and to mention your concerns about sepsis if you notice any of them. It could save your life.

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