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Sepsis: A Medical Emergency

October 9th, 2018 by

Renaye CortrightSepsis: A Medical Emergency
by Renaye Cortright, LPN, Quality Specialist at Drew Memorial Health System

The month of September served as a monthly observance for many important health-related causes, from childhood obesity awareness and prostate cancer awareness to world Alzheimer’s month and ovarian cancer month. One observance that we don’t always hear much about on the national level is Sepsis Awareness. In the last few years, our hospital began to introduce specific education and resources about sepsis during September, chiefly for staff. I currently serve as our hospital’s “sepsis champion,” because sepsis is serious, and it’s something we want to educate the public about as well as our employees. The Sepsis Collaborative, part of the Arkansas Hospital Association, surveys hospitals about what practices they have in place and what opportunities exist to improve the identification and treatment of sepsis. When they reached out to our hospital, we realized we wanted to get more involved in preventing sepsis and spreading awareness too. Even though September is over, we’re continuing to spread the word far and wide about Sepsis.

First, we want you to understand sepsis before you know how to prevent its serious complications. Sepsis is the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to an infection – any infection. It is a toxic response that can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death. Infections can come from a number of sources, from a simple scrape on the playground, to a surgical incision, or even a urinary tract infection. Any infection could lead to sepsis if not treated adequately, depending upon how your body responds.

This means that individuals who are at a higher risk for developing infections are also at a higher risk for developing sepsis. These are people with compromised immune systems, chronic illnesses, the very young, and the very old. However, sepsis can affect anyone of any sex, age, race, mobility, fitness level, or nationality.

When an immune system stops fighting an infection, the body is now working against itself and sepsis begins. If someone is septic (beginning stages of sepsis), and it is untreated at this stage, it leads to severe sepsis, which includes complications like organ dysfunction. If sepsis is still not identified or adequately treated, it can lead to septic shock – when blood pressure drops dangerously low, and could mean death.

Sepsis does not have to lead to life-altering complications or death, but it does need to be identified early to reduce that likelihood. So, how do you identify sepsis? If you recognize any combination of the following symptoms and there is a likely infection, these may be cause for concern. Symptoms of sepsis follow the acronym SEPSIS-
S – Shivering, fever, or very cold – including higher or lower temperature than normal
E – Extreme pain or general discomfort “worst ever”
P – Pale or discolored skin
S – Sleepy, difficult to rouse, confused
I – “I feel like I might die”
S – Short of Breath

Whenever you suspect sepsis, seek medical attention as soon as possible and if you are in a hospital or clinical setting, ask someone on your care team, “Could this be sepsis?” Each case is different, but your physician typically treat sepsis in a hospital ICU, where they stop the infection, often with antibiotics, protect the vital organs, and prevent blood pressure dropping. Some patients may need dialysis, surgery, or a breathing tube during recovery.

All of our clinical staff complete annual sepsis training, and this year we reached outside our walls. We started a local push in September to get out materials about sepsis to our community. We visited nursing homes and talked with first responders along with our hospital staff members. We created new screening guidelines for the ER, ICU, and the Med/Surg inpatient floor. We also hosted a sepsis walk, distributed mousepads and materials to doctors’ offices locally, and shared a lot of information about sepsis on social media. September was a great month to spread materials out at regional county fairs and festivals, so our boundaries are not just Drew County. We will also continue to provide information and print collateral to any long-term care facilities and any emergency personnel as we can.

Sepsis is the most expensive condition in the US treated in hospitals. More than one million Americans are affected each year, and worldwide, more people die from sepsis than from breast cancer, prostate cancer, and AIDS combined. Even when it is treated, long-term effects can include permanent organ damage, lifelong dialysis, weakened immune system, all keeping that person at a higher risk of developing future infections. That’s why identifying the signs and symptoms early is essential. Death from sepsis is preventable if you are able to treat the infection early and fully, to keep patients from progressing to severe sepsis and septic shock. We’ll be continuing to get the word out about this major health emergency, well beyond the month of September. Help us spread the word by educating yourself and your loved ones. More valuable information about sepsis, along with first-hand stories from patients and families affected by sepsis, can be found at Sepsis.org.

 

 

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