Most Americans don’t know that a hard-hitting threat called sepsis is the third leading cause of death in our country’s medical intensive care units. But medical and advocacy groups are working hard to raise awareness and develop strategies to better detect and treat the condition. Reason: it claims nearly 700 lives every day.
“My daughter Erin had elective surgery and then died from a lack of sepsis awareness and urgency on the part of her healthcare providers, myself, and the hospital. To stop these needless and preventable deaths, we must inform the public about the signs of sepsis before they contract it,” says Dr. Carl Flatley, founder and chairman of Sepsis Alliance.
Sepsis symptoms (see chart) occur when the body’s immune system overreacts to bacteria or other germs and releases chemicals that drop blood pressure and slow circulation to the kidneys, liver, lungs, and nervous system.
Early detection and treatment saves lives. However, there’s no test yet to confirm the condition, and no FDA-approved drug therapy for life-threatening cases. (A string of promising compounds have failed clinical testing during the past two years.)
Of course, prevention is best. In hospitals, careful hand-washing and handling of urinary catheters and IV lines help fend off infections that can lead to sepsis. Educating the public about sepsis adds another layer of protection against the potential threat.
“It’s important for people in the general community to learn about sepsis, identify and report symptoms early, and support ongoing research because patients and doctors may be slow to recognize sepsis,” says Dr. Paul Walker, president of Spectral Diagnostics, a company developing a new approach to individualize sepsis therapy for better outcomes.
Additionally, consumers should make informed decisions when selecting a doctor or hospital by accessing websites that offer hospital and doctor performance information based on objective measures such as complications (including sepsis), mortality, and patient satisfaction. Healthgrades provides quality reports on all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Americans spend more time researching a refrigerator than they do choosing a healthcare provider, according to consumer research conducted for Healthgrades by Harris Interactive.
- Rapid breathing
- Rapid heart rate
Note: Many of these symptoms mimic other conditions, making sepsis hard to diagnose in its early stages.