What you need to know about sepsis
You may be familiar with the word sepsis, but do you know how to prevent or identify it? September is Sepsis Awareness Month and it’s the perfect time to educate yourself on the infection. Afterall, it can happen to anyone, affecting millions of people and taking nearly 350,000 adult lives in the U.S. every year.
What is sepsis and how do you know if you have it?
Sepsis is a serious condition that can develop in response to an infection. The body responds with a widespread reaction that can damage other organs in the body. Symptoms can begin mild and become life threatening. Symptoms include:
- Fever of greater than 100.4
- Cough, pain in a part of your body, or a red, swollen area on your skin
- Extreme pain
- Pale skin
- Shortness of breath
- Fast heart rate
- Feeling very sick or fatigued
“Although these symptoms may present like other illnesses, such as a cold, they can develop into sepsis — especially if there is known immunocompromised medical history,” explains Dr. John Allegretti, an emergency medicine physician at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.
If you suspect you may have sepsis, contact your primary care provider at minimum and go to your nearest emergency room if you are immunocompromised (such as actively recieving chemotherapy or taking immunosuppressant medications) or have severe symptoms.
“Any patient, regardless of medical history, who has signs of sepsis and is exhibiting significant fatigue, difficulty breathing, mild confusion, or documented low blood pressure, should immediately go to their nearest emergency department,” says Dr. Allegretti.
What are the first steps of recovery?
Since sepsis can present in many different ways, recovery depends on when it was discovered. Recovery takes place at the hospital with antibiotics and fluid management. Full rounds of antibiotics are an important part of your recovery along with rest, mobility and a healthy diet. Your care team will help you plan next steps and discharge you from the hospital.
However, severe sepsis recovery may look different. “This occurs when certain areas of your body are no longer functioning normally. It’s called end organ dysfunction, which is secondary to the negative effects the sepsis is having on those areas. Some signs include low blood pressure, kidney injury, liver injury, severe respiratory distress and confusion,” says Dr. Allegretti.
As part of your treatment for severe sepsis and septic shock, you may be prescribed inpatient physical therapy to help prevent muscle wasting. You may also need specialty referrals, such as a cardiologist or pulmonologist, to help rehabilitate the organ system(s) that was affected by sepsis.
Are there lingering or long-term effects?
After sepsis is treated, you may have lingering effects that can take time to recover. You may experience fatigue, changes in appetite and your mood, body aches and more. You may benefit from a family member or a caregiver helping you at home once you are discharged, especially in severe cases.
Are there steps to take at home to improve your recovery?
Once you are discharged from the hospital, follow your care plan provided by your health care team. But most importantly, give yourself time to recover, including your mental health. Recovering from sepsis can be overwhelming. Talk to your family and friends so they can help you as needed. Report any significant change in your health after discharge. Readmission to the hospital can be common after sepsis.
About the Author
Blair Crane, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator for Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in communication from the University of Missouri - Columbia and has more than six years of communication and marketing experience. Outside of work you can find her trying new restaurants and hanging out with her two cats.