Sepsis: Speak Up to Save Lives

The word sepsis is written in block letters

Sepsis is either a scary word or an unfamiliar word for most people. In clinical settings, caregivers are vigilant in identifying sepsis so that effective treatment can be administered immediately. Sepsis can be a serious, life-threatening condition in the body that could lead to harm or death. Knowing the symptoms can lead to early diagnosis and save lives.

Sepsis is your body’s toxic reaction to an infection but it’s not an infection by itself. Sepsis isn’t contagious or a blood poisoning. It’s actually different for everyone and is an evolving process that the medical community continues to study.

More than a quarter of a million people die each year in the U.S. because of sepsis.

Up to 85% of sepsis cases occur in the community, not in the hospital, and it’s actually more deadly than breast cancer, prostate cancer, opioids and stroke combined. However, it can be treated if it’s identified early. The faster people use the word or even suspect it, the more alert people become and can take action.

What are the signs of sepsis? This list will help you to speak up if these symptoms occur:

S – Shivering or chills, fevers    
E – Extreme pain (outside of the norm and realm where pain should be)
P – Pale or discolored skin
S – Sleepy or difficult to arouse, confusion
I  – “I feel like I might die”
S – Shortness of breath

People going through sepsis at home may feel that they are too tired to do most activities, and their thinking feels slow or not quite right. An individual who hasn’t urinated in five or more hours or who is experiencing cloudy, dark or bad odor urine should call a doctor. A sepsis patient also may experience faster heartbeat, difficulty breathing and lower blood pressure. Symptoms of sepsis may mimic other illnesses, such as the flu or stomach virus. If an individual thinks he or she may have sepsis, take action immediately.

What should you do if you think you may have sepsis? Call 911. Find a hospital near you. Tell the person treating you that you suspect you may have sepsis. A provider will likely put you on antibiotics to reduce the infection and order a blood culture to determine the specific infection type that you may have and adjust treatment accordingly.

How can you help be an advocate about sepsis? Educate yourself and be informed about it. Learn the symptoms and talk about them with others whenever appropriate.  

Here are several best health practices that we can do to help prevent the spread of infections that could lead to sepsis:

  • Practice good hygiene such as hand washing.
  • Keep cuts clean and watch them carefully until healed.
  • Stay up to date on important vaccines.
  • Manage the health of your chronic condition.
  • Avoid gathering with anyone who is sick.
  • Wear a face mask in crowds, especially if there is increase in community spread of communicable disease.
  • If you have an infection that doesn’t seem to be improving, visit your primary care physician.
  • Remember the symptoms of sepsis and act fast if you suspect you or someone you know may have it.

Share this information with your loved ones to protect them. Remember that sepsis is a medical emergency and time matters. Speak up to help save lives. If you suspect an emergency, call 911 and seek medical attention.