Quick, Aggressive Treatment Can Increase Chance of Survival

June 10, 2020

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 1.7 million adults in America develop sepsis each year, with nearly 270,000 dying as a result. Difficulty breathing or confusion are both concerning signs of sepsis and should be evaluated in your local emergency room. Bhagyashree Shastri, MD, provides helpful information about sepsis and what to do if you or a loved one receive this diagnosis.

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is a life-threatening response to an already existing infection that starts a chain reaction spreading through your whole body. Without prompt treatment, it can quickly affect blood pressure and lead to organ failure, tissue damage, amputation and even death. It most commonly occurs in adults over age 65, those with weakened immune systems, and children less than 1 year old.

How is sepsis diagnosed?

It can be very challenging to diagnose sepsis, as there is no one test for it. We start with vital signs (heart rate and blood pressure), a few blood tests, and possibly an X-ray or CT scan. We are looking for an infection and seeing how the body is responding to it. It is sometimes difficult to tell if a person has sepsis because the signs can be varied, subtle and confusing. Common infections that can cause sepsis include pneumonia, urinary tract infections, gallbladder infections and appendicitis.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of possible sepsis are like those of any infection, but can also include high heart rate, confusion or disorientation, fever or shivering, lethargy or sleepiness, and difficulty breathing. Infections that can develop into sepsis are frequently caused by Staphylococcus aureus (staph), Escherichia coli (E. coli) and some types of Streptococcus (strep).

The CDC has created a SEPSIS acronym of symptoms: Shivering, Extreme pain, Pale, Sleepy, I feel like I might die, Short of breath.

If you notice these symptoms, call 9-1-1.

How is sepsis treated?

Quick, aggressive treatment increases your chance of survival. Antibiotics are given for the infection, and IV fluids are given to support blood pressure and major organ systems. Doctors will look for the source of infection and remove it through drainage or surgery, if needed. You should get medical care immediately if you suspect sepsis or have an infection that’s not getting better or is getting worse.