While watching your favorite hospital drama series on TV, you may have heard the good-looking doctors shout that their patient is “septic,” while other model-looking hospital staff runs into to help.
Although sepsis is a dangerous medical condition, it can be prevented and in most cases reversed.
Scott & White ICU nurse, Richard Allison, RN, explains how to prevent sepsis and what to do if it happens to you.
What is sepsis?
“It is when your whole body and your bloodstream is overwhelmed by bacteria and your body’s response to the infection,” Mr. Allison said. “You get severely ill. And it can happen to anyone, even if you’re healthy.”
In many cases, sepsis occurs in older patients and those with compromised immune systems. This includes:
- Those undergoing chemo
- If you’re recovering from another illness
- Skipping a vaccination on your vaccination schedule
- If you have Diabetes and are not controlling your blood sugar
- Poor nutritional habits
What causes it?
While having a compromised immune system and being unhealthy can put you at a higher risk for developing sepsis, the cause of the condition usually begins with a bacterial infection somewhere in the body.
Common places where sepsis can start are:
- The bowel (usually seen with peritonitis)
- The kidneys (a urinary tract infection)
- The lining of the brain (meningitis)
- The liver or the gall bladder
- The lungs (bacterial pneumonia)
- The skin (cellulitis)
Information courtesy of the Scott & White Health Library.
What are the symptoms of sepsis?
“You don’t feel like yourself, and you may have a fever,” Mr. Allison said. “But sometimes when your body becomes overwhelmed with bacteria, you will have a low temperature.”
Confusion may also be a sign of sepsis, especially in elderly patients. And you might also experience hyperventilation or rapid breathing in the early stages of the condition.
Other symptoms include:
- Decreased urine output
- Skin rash
- Warm skin
- Reduced mental alertness, sometimes with confusion
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, especially after being ill with a bacterial infection, it is important to seek medical treatment as soon as possible.
How is sepsis treated?
“When you come into the ER or the ICU, we take a urine sample and see what bacteria grow out of it,” he said. “We’ll also take a sample of blood and some sputum (fluid from a cough).”
Once the medical staff determines what sort of bacteria is affecting the patient, they administer a broad spectrum of IV antibiotics.
Possible Prognosis and Complications
“The prognosis can be really good and it can be poor sometimes,” Mr. Allison said. “It all depends on when you seek treatment.”
It is important to seek medical treatment if you’re not feeling well or you notice that you’re elderly relative is confused, hasn’t gone to the bathroom twice in a 24 hour period, or has a cut that has developed a rash or an area of pus.
The worst complication is death or organ failure. But if the condition is caught early enough, the only complication might be a prolonged hospital stay.
How is sepsis handled at Scott & White?
“When a patient is admitted to the ICU and to the hospital, they are actually screened as part of the admission process to see if they may be septic.”
Scott & White even has a system of sepsis protocol.
“We are proactive,” Mr. Allison said, “because time is important in treatment of the disease.”
For more information about sepsis, visit the Scott & White Health Library.