The third-leading cause of death: sepsis

Published 1:26 pm Saturday, July 8, 2017

Have you ever heard of a disease called sepsis? Did you realize it is the third-leading cause of death in the United States of America? It is sometimes referred to as blood poisoning by the general public.

Sepsis claims the lives of over 258,000 Americans every year. Only about 55 percent of American adults have ever heard the word sepsis. Sepsis is one of the most costly diseases that is treated in hospitals. In the U.S., we spend about $24 billion on the treatment of sepsis each year. I would like to take this opportunity to educate you on the signs and symptoms, treatment and prevention of sepsis.

Sepsis is when the body has an overwhelming response to an infection. This can lead to failure of your organs and death. The body ends up attacking itself. It is not completely understood by scientists why the body turns on itself and stops fighting off the infection. Sepsis is diagnosed when certain signs and symptoms are present. Sepsis is not diagnosed solely by the presence of an infection. Sepsis becomes severe sepsis when the organs show signs of failure. The most severe level of sepsis is septic shock. This is when the patient’s blood pressure becomes dangerously low. Certain people are at higher risk of developing sepsis. These include people with weak immune systems, the very young, the very old and those with chronic illness.

It is very important to know the signs and symptoms of sepsis so that treatment can begin early to prevent it from progressing to severe sepsis or septic shock. has a simple acronym to remember the symptoms of sepsis:

S — Shivering, fever, or very cold

E — Extreme pain or discomfort

P — Pale or discolored skin

S — Sleepy, difficult to rouse, confused

I — “I feel like I might die”

S — Short of breath

Sepsis must be treated as an emergency to prevent severe sepsis, septic shock or even death. Sepsis is treated with the rapid administration of antibiotics and intravenous fluids. Depending on the level of sepsis, the patient may need further treatment such as invasive venous and arterial lines, dialysis, ventilators, oxygen and medications to increase blood pressure.

There are some ways to decrease your risk of developing sepsis. Routine vaccinations need to be kept up-to-date. This includes the flu and pneumonia vaccines. Any cut or scrape of your skin can be a potential site for an infection to start. Wounds should be cleaned with soap and water. They should be kept clean and protected from becoming dirty, if necessary. If a wound is deep or gaping it should be evaluated by a healthcare professional for the need for stitches. Watch all wounds for signs of infection: redness around the wound, skin around the wound being hot, increased pain and/or puss draining from the wound. If any of these signs are exhibited, you should contact a healthcare professional.

When prescribed antibiotics, you should take them as directed. Some bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics due to the overuse of antibiotics. Never take antibiotics that have not been prescribed by a healthcare professional.

Good hand washing will reduce your risk of developing sepsis. Good hand washing simply requires soap and water. Lather your hands and make sure to rub your fingers and clean under your nails. Hand washing should last at least 15 seconds. This should be done frequently throughout the day and anytime your hands are visibly dirty. Waterless, alcohol hand sanitizers can be used as well, but if your hands are visibly dirty, soap and water is preferred. You should also teach your children good hand washing skills.

Sepsis is a disease that can be treated at Vidant Beaufort Hospital. Our hospital staff is trained to rapidly identify sepsis and begin treatment early. Most patients who have severe sepsis or septic shock will be admitted to intensive care unit. In most cases, the patient will not require transfer to a tertiary care center, but if needed, the patient can be transferred to Vidant Medical Center or another tertiary care center.

Nat Gladding, RN, BSN, is the emergency department manager at Vidant Beaufort Hospital and can be reached at 252-975-4319.