Fighting sepsis is piecing together a puzzle

Fighting sepsis is piecing together a puzzle

More than 1.6 million Americans are diagnosed with sepsis each year, yet only 44 percent of U.S. adults have heard of sepsis, according to the Sepsis Alliance. It is statistics like this that call for awareness brought on through World Sepsis Day, celebrated this year today on September 13th.

Sepsis is a severe response to infection in the body. For health care providers, sepsis is a race against time to keep a patient’s body from succumbing to infection.

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put sepsis in the spotlight, noting the dangers of this silent killer. According to the report, 80 percent of the patients diagnosed with sepsis developed the condition outside of the hospital. This could be from a respiratory infection, a urinary tract infection or even a skin infection.  And seven in 10 patients with sepsis recently used health care services or had chronic diseases requiring frequent medical care.

Donna Schweitzer, MSN, APN, CCNS, CCRN, a critical care clinical nurse specialist at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill., has been treating septic patients and training nurses on sepsis for the last two decades. “One of the things that makes sepsis difficult to treat is that there is not a simple diagnostic test that we can run to determine that a patient has sepsis,” says Schweitzer.

“It is more like piecing together a puzzle by regularly evaluating heart rate, respirations, temperature and white blood cell count and other labs and assessments.”

The CDC lists the following as signs and symptoms of sepsis:

  • Shivering, fever or very cold
  • Extreme pain or discomfort
  • Clammy or discolored skin
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Shortness of breath
  • High heart rate

The CDC recommends treating signs of sepsis as a medical emergency and seeking care as soon as possible.

“Rapid intervention is key. A simple urinary tract infection in a patient whose health may already be compromised by a chronic illness can become life-threatening in a matter of hours,” adds Schweitzer. “Sepsis is an equal opportunity killer. It can attack the young, the old, the sick and the healthy.”

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About the Author

Lynn Hutley
Lynn Hutley

Lynn Hutley, health enews contributor, is coordinator of public affairs and marketing at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center and Advocate Eureka Hospital in central Illinois. Having grown up in a family-owned drug store, it is no surprise that Lynn has spent almost 18 years working in the health care industry. She has a degree in human resources management from Illinois State University and is always ready to tackle Trivia Night.