Sepsis is a medical emergency that occurs when the immune system overreacts to an infection – working against the body instead of helping it. When sepsis occurs, time is of the essence to prevent serious harm or even death.
More than 1.7 million people are diagnosed with sepsis each year in the United States. It can affect patients of any age, regardless of their overall health. Those at greatest risk include children, older adults with chronic health conditions and individuals whose immune systems are compromised.
“Sepsis can develop from any type of infection, including a minor cut, urinary tract infection and pneumonia,” said Thomas E. Quinn Jr., M.D., a specialist in critical care medicine at Maury Regional Medical Center. “Because sepsis can progress quickly, it is vital to recognize the warning signs and to seek medical care as soon as sepsis is suspected.”
Without immediate medical treatment, sepsis can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and even death. Remember the acronym TIME and seek help immediately when someone exhibits these signs:
T: Temperature that is not normal – either high or low
I: Signs of an infection
M: Mental decline, confusion or difficult to rouse
E: Extreme illness, severe discomfort or a feeling of being near death
Other signs of sepsis may include shortness of breath, rapid heart rate and sweaty or clammy skin. Children who have sepsis may have pale or mottled skin, develop a rash that does not fade when pressed or have convulsions. Watch also for a very young child who is not eating, is not urinating and/or is vomiting.
According to the Sepsis Alliance, the risk of death from sepsis increases by as much as eight percent for every hour that treatment is delayed. That is why it is so important to urgently seek medical care if you suspect sepsis in yourself or a loved one.
“Identifying sepsis at an early stage allows health care professionals to provide medical intervention aimed at preventing serious complications or death,” said Dr. Quinn.
When signs of sepsis are present, or an individual has an infection that does not seem to be responding to treatment, act quickly. Call 911 or go to the closest emergency room and tell the provider that you are concerned about sepsis.
Learn more about sepsis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at CDC.gov/Sepsis or the Sepsis Alliance at Sepsis.org.