Do you know the symptoms of sepsis? You really (really) should. Sepsis describes when the body reacts to infection by releasing chemicals that result in life-threatening inflammation. If left untreated it can lead to severe low blood pressure, organ failure and death. It requires immediate treatment and is deadly nearly 40% of the time.
September has been declared Sepsis Awareness Month, and while I don't usually write about "awareness" days or months (because readers are no more interested in breast cancer in October than any other time), this is a great excuse to write about sepsis, since it tends to be one of those things you don't hear about until somebody dies of it. Although it's relatively rare among healthy people, everybody should know the symptoms just in case.
Sepsis was in the news recently because of the tragic story of a 12-year-old New York boy named Rory Staunton, who died of septic shock within days of scraping his elbow in the school gym. ER doctors misdiagnosed his symptoms as a stomach flu and sent him home, missing the chance to save his life.
To prevent that from happening to you or a loved one, know these symptoms of sepsis (from the U.S. National Library of Medicine):
- A change in mental status and very fast breathing may be the earliest signs of sepsis
- Confusion or delirium
- Fever or low body temperature (hypothermia)
- Light-headedness due to low blood pressure
- Rapid heartbeat
- Skin rash
- Warm skin
- Bruising or bleeding
It's possible to have sepsis without all of these symptoms being present. In general, you should go on alert whenever you or a loved one becomes ill very suddenly, especially if you know that an infection is present (though in rare cases like Rory Staunton's, sepsis can result from seemingly minor wounds like a cut or scrape). Sepsis needs to be treated in a hospital with intravenous antibiotics and other interventions, so if you have strong reasons to suspect sepsis, head straight to the ER.
For more information about sepsis, check out these resources:
More about infection treatment and prevention: