September Is Sepsis Awareness Month - Mature Health Center

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Originally published September 4, 2018, last updated September 5, 2018

September Is Sepsis Awareness Month

September Is Sepsis Awareness Month

Did you know that the leading cause of deaths in U.S. hospitals is sepsis? It kills about 258,000 Americans a year.

For Sepsis Awareness Month (September) we look at some frequently asked questions, including what you can do to prevent sepsis.   

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is the body’s toxic, or severe, response to an infection. While your body’s immune system is designed to fight off infection, for reasons that researchers don’t understand, sometimes the immune system stops fighting the invaders —bacteria, fungi, viruses or parasites — and turns on itself. 

Sepsis occurs when chemicals released into the bloodstream to fight the infection trigger inflammation throughout the body. The inflammation can trigger a cascade of changes that can damage multiple organ systems, sometimes leading to organ failure. That’s why sepsis can sometimes be life-threatening. If it progresses to septic shock, blood pressure drops dramatically, which can sometimes lead to death.

What are the symptoms?

The Sepsis Alliance encourages you to remember that with sepsis it’s all about TIME: temperature, infection, mental decline and extremely ill. If your temperature rises above 100 degrees Fahrenheit or drops significantly, that can be a sign of sepsis. With a local infection, like an infected cut, the signs are mostly restricted to the affected area. But if the infection spreads, you can experience a fever, fatigue and pain. Be aware of those signs as possible indications that you’re developing sepsis. But also be aware that sometimes you may have an infection and not even know it. Sepsis can affect your mental status, causing confusion or sleepiness. Some people have described sepsis as the worst they’ve ever felt. Healthcare professionals look for those symptoms but also look at other factors, ranging from blood cell count and other laboratory results, to diagnose sepsis. If you suspect sepsis, see a doctor immediately or call 911 and say, “I am concerned about sepsis.”

Who’s at risk?

While anyone can develop sepsis, it’s most common and dangerous in older adults or those with weakened immune systems. A study published in 2006 reported that while people 65 years old and older make up about 12% of the American population, they make up 65% of sepsis cases in hospitals. As we age, our immune system becomes less effective at fighting infections, making older people more susceptible to infections and more susceptible to sepsis.

How do you prevent sepsis?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these are things you can do to prevent sepsis:

  1. Prevent infections — Take good care of chronic conditions and get recommended vaccinations
  2. Practice good hygiene — Remember to wash your hands and keep cuts clean and covered until healed
  3. Know the signs and symptoms — Remember the TIME acronym mentioned previously
  4. Act fast — Get medical attention immediately if you suspect sepsis or have an infection that’s not getting better or is getting worse

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