SEPSIS: Deadly & Difficult to Diagnose – By: Mary Ellen Pratt, FACHE, CEO
Sepsis is one of the most common causes of death in a hospital, affecting 1 million people and killing more Americans each year than AIDs, prostate cancer and breast cancer combined. One reason for the high death rate is that sepsis is DIFFICULT TO DIAGNOSE because it happens quickly and can be confused with other conditions. Due to the increase in sepsis-affiliated death rates, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has increased its support for projects specifically focused on sepsis prevention so that we can better understand the factors that contribute to sepsis, enhance prevention strategies and ultimately save lives.
What is Sepsis?
Sepsis is a complication caused by the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to an infection. When sepsis sets in after an infection it causes the body to release chemicals into the bloodstream that trigger inflammation, which damages organs and tissues, causing them to fail and resulting in death.
Sepsis can be treated successfully if caught early; however, sepsis very hard is to diagnose in its early stages. One reason is that there is no single sign or symptom of sepsis. It is, rather, a combination of symptoms. Since sepsis is the result of an infection, symptoms may include infection signs (diarrhea, vomiting, sore throat, etc.), as well as fever, chills, confusion, pain/discomfort and difficulty breathing. Equally as challenging, is the fact that many symptoms of sepsis are the same as that of common conditions such as the flu or a cold. Catching sepsis early is critical because quick treatment with antibiotics, IV fluids and oxygen within hours of when symptoms start is key to survival.
What We Are Doing
To ensure early detection of sepsis, hospitals are adopting standard protocols for assessing and diagnosing this condition. Doctors diagnose sepsis using a number of physical findings such as vital signs, obtaining/reviewing a detailed patient history and doing lab tests that check for signs of infection and organ damage. At St. James Parish Hospital we have had a team of doctors, nurses and pharmacists working on increasing the detection of sepsis in the Emergency Department. They have established a protocol and added additional questions to our screening tool during triage. Hospitals that have implemented these types of measures have reduced mortality from sepsis.
What can you do?
In addition to hospitals trying to prevent sepsis, patients can protect themselves by being proactive. First, if you think you have an infection or sepsis, call your doctor or go to the emergency room immediately. If you are continuing to feel worse or not getting better in the days after surgery, ask your doctor about sepsis. It’s important to speak up and let your healthcare provider know your concerns by saying, “I am worried about sepsis.” Sepsis is a common complication of people hospitalized for other reasons. Secondly, you can prevent infection by getting vaccinated and practicing good hygiene by washing your hands and effectively cleaning scrapes and wounds. Finally, don’t ignore the signs and symptoms of sepsis and seek treatment quickly.
St. James Parish Hospital is committed to working with other hospitals, healthcare organizations and national associations to share and adopt best practices and standard protocols for recognizing and treating both common and life-threatening conditions.
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