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Seniors and Life-Threatening Sepsis

  • Category: General Health
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Matt Gougler
Seniors and Life-Threatening Sepsis

Do you know what sepsis is?

If you answered "no," you're not alone; more than 40 percent of U.S. adults have never even heard of sepsis.

That lack of knowledge could prove deadly–specifically if you're an older adult, and more particularly if you're an older adult with a chronic illness or impaired immune system–as these characteristics increase the risk of sepsis, which is the leading cause of death in hospitals nationwide. In fact, sepsis takes a life every two minutes and accounts for more deaths than prostate cancer, breast cancer, and HIV/AIDS combined.

September is Sepsis Awareness Month, and ATRIO Health Plans is supporting this important initiative by sharing information about this largely unknown, but often fatal condition.

The Roots of Sepsis

The first step on the road to increased awareness is defining what sepsis is. And the first step on the road to sepsis is an infection. As a general rule, the human immune system is programmed to defeat infections, albeit often with the assistance of medications such as antibiotics.

Sepsis takes root when–for reasons that remain unknown–the immune system essentially waves the white flag of surrender. Sepsis is thus allowed to invade unimpeded, which can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and–in the worst-case scenario–death.

Sepsis Symptoms

There is no surefire cure for sepsis; early detection is thus the best line of defense, and that's why knowing the symptoms of sepsis is essential. With that goal in mind, think of the word TIME:

  • T – Temperature: A number that's higher or lower than normal.
  • I - Infection – General signs of an infection include fever, diarrhea, fatigue, muscle aches, and coughing.
  • M – Mental Decline – Appearing confused and/or extremely sleepy, as well as difficult to rouse.
  • E – Extremely ill – Severe pain or discomfort.

Spotting symptoms early can prevent the progression to severe sepsis, which can be accompanied by: difficulty breathing; low or no urine output; liver dysfunction; and cognitive impairment. The majority of patients with severe sepsis require treatment in an intensive care unit. Septic shock is the most severe level of sepsis and is diagnosed when blood pressure drops to dangerously low levels.

Sepsis is a medical emergency. If sepsis is suspected, contact your healthcare provider immediately or call 911.

Treating Sepsis

Administering antibiotics intravenously and as quickly as possible is treatment step one. Time is of the essence, as studies have shown that the risk of death from sepsis increases by nearly eight percent with every hour that passes before treatment begins.

In addition to antibiotics, the administration of fluids also is crucial to prevent blood pressure from plummeting and triggering bodily shock.

Preventing Sepsis

Just as there is no surefire cure for sepsis, there is no surefire method to prevent sepsis. There are, however, steps you can take to reduce the risk of sepsis.

For example, every cut, scrape, or break in the skin can open the door for bacteria to enter your body and cause an infection. That's why it’s essential to clean any wound as quickly as possible and to keep it clean throughout the healing process.

The risk of sepsis also can be reduced by preventing or quickly identifying and managing infections. With that goal in mind, make a commitment to practicing good hygiene, staying current with vaccinations, and seeking treatment the moment an infection is suspected.