Over a quarter million Americans die annually from a medical condition called sepsis. This strange disease is more frequently seen in young children, adults, and patients with severely compromised immune systems. However, sepsis also claims the lives of healthy adults and can come on suddenly. Detecting this strange disease in time is critical to saving a patient’s life and preventing the need for amputations.
What Happens to Patients with Sepsis?
When your body becomes very sick from a virus, infection, fungus, or even parasites, your immune system may kick into overdrive to ward off the invaders. However, when the war gets intense enough, your body’s immune fighters may become hypercritical of any cells that they encounter. Instead of succumbing to death by intruders, they will go into Kamikaze mode and destroy everything around.
This ultimately leads to self-destruction if nothing is done to snap your immune system out of Doomsday Mode. Sepsis is usually triggered by a severe infection such as an abscessed tooth. When a tooth forms an abscess full of toxic bacteria and pus below it, the abscess can then burst and poison the blood with overwhelming volumes of bacteria. It can also happen if you go swimming in certain lakes that harbor deadly parasites or flesh-eating bacteria.
Once the sepsis becomes severe, it will cause breathing difficulties, organ dysfunction, and a loss of mental clarity. Liver tests and a lack of urine can often confirm severe sepsis cases. Sepsis often causes a loss of blood circulation to limbs, which, in turn, leads to gangrene. Once the necrosis of tissue sets in, it will spread unless the limbs or digits are amputated. Septic shock is the most critical phase when blood pressure drops to unsustainable levels.
Even if you recover from sepsis, you run a high risk (50 percent chance) of suffering from post-sepsis syndrome. This may be related to lengthy stays in hospital intensive care units (ICU) because the symptoms are similar to post-traumatic stress (PTSD). Some symptoms are caused by the original lack of blood flow to organs or viral respiratory infections.
You may experience:
- Crippling joint pain
- ADHD-like symptoms
- Panic attack
- Loss of cognitive capacity
Because so many Americans die annually from sepsis, the costs of healthcare in the ICU reaches $27 billion a year. Almost 30 percent of those Americans die even with life-saving treatments. More Americans die each year from sepsis than AIDS, prostate cancer, and breast cancer combined. This is partly because only a small percentage know how to recognize the symptoms. In order to spread awareness, the Sepsis Alliance has created a profound acronym: TIME.
T – Temperature may be either too high or too low
I – Infection symptoms are present
M – Mental decline is apparent (confusion, drowsiness, apathy)
E – Extreme illness is marked by severe pain and total-body exhaustion
Sepsis death rates are declining as doctors implement SPOT (Sepsis Prediction and Optimization of Therapy) technology to detect the early signs of sepsis in a hospital environment using computer algorithms. But you can still help by spreading awareness because knowing is half the battle.