“I feel like I might die.” It’s a phrase you never want to have to say nor hear from a loved one. However, it is exactly what the CDC suggests you pronounce if you think you may be suffering from sepsis.
Sepsis is the body’s life-threatening response to any kind of infection — even a minor one — and can cause tissue damage, organ failure and, in some cases, death. In fact, according to the CDC, there are more than 1 million cases of sepsis in the United States every year, killing close to 258,000 people. Those numbers are increasing annually.
“Sepsis has always been a significant problem,” says Sarah Saunders-Harbaugh, RN, BSN, clinical lead of the Emergency Department at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center. “It is an incredibly complex and hard-to-detect illness, and it’s very important to educate people — including physicians and other medical professionals — about the signs, symptoms and treatment of sepsis.”
Saunders-Harbaugh says that certain populations are more at risk of sepsis. These include people with weakened immune systems, infants, the elderly, those with chronic illness and people with a wound or burn.
“Unfortunately, we live in a population that suffers from a variety of chronic illnesses and serious conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes or end-stage renal failure, and they are at greater risk for sepsis,” she says. “It only takes a small infection — including a basic respiratory, skin, urinary or abdominal ailment — for those most at risk. And if it’s not detected and treated early, it can lead to organ failure.”
Saunders-Harbaugh is pleased that the detection and treatment of sepsis is garnering more attention, especially as the flu season approaches and cases of sepsis are expected to increase. She is further buoyed in knowing that sepsis can be easily treated with antibiotics and IV fluids if it is recognized early.
She offers the following suggestions to help recognize the signs of sepsis and prevent its devastating effects:
- Maintain appropriate, regular medical care.
- Know the signs of sepsis: fever, chills, extreme discomfort, pale skin, shortness of breath and disorientation.
- If you or a loved one are ill, seek treatment immediately and do not try to “tough it out.” The CDC suggests you say to your care provider, “I am concerned about sepsis” or “I feel like I might die.”
- Practice good hygiene by washing hands often and bathing regularly.
- Get vaccinated against the flu and pneumonia every year.