What is sepsis? What the public needs to know

sepsis-is-a-medical-emergency-(2).PNGSepsis is a medical emergency. It is a complication of the body’s response to an infection that can lead to life threatening tissue damage, organ failure and death (CDC, 2017). By increasing awareness of the early signs and symptoms of sepsis and risk factors for developing sepsis, we could improve survival and decrease complications. Like many life-threatening conditions, time is of the essence. Early detection and treatment of sepsis is the cornerstone of managing this medical emergency. According to the most recent data from 2013, sepsis was the most expensive condition treated in US hospitals accounting for $23.7 billion, or 6.2% of aggregate cost for all hospitalizations (Torio & Moore, 2016). To increase awareness and improve outcomes related to sepsis, we summarized key teaching points to communicate with patients and the public about this medical emergency. 

Here are the top 10 things to teach patients and the public about sepsis:

  1. Any type of infection can lead to sepsis. The four most common are lung, urinary tract, GI tract, and skin infections (CDC, 2017). 
  2. Sepsis begins outside the hospital in 80% of those affected (CDC, 2017).
  3. Sepsis affects approximately one million people in the US annually (NIH, 2017); patients hospitalized with sepsis are eight times more likely to die during hospitalization (Hall et al. 2011). 
  4. Sepsis is the result of an abnormal inflammatory response that the body has to an infection. The overwhelming inflammatory reaction is what leads to the symptoms of sepsis and the associated organ failures.
  5. Risk factors for developing sepsis are age (those older than 65 and those under one-year old [CDC, 2017] are highest at risk); weakened immune systems due to medication or disease; and chronic illness, such as diabetes or COPD.
  6. Early signs and symptoms of sepsis include fever, chills, fast heartbeat, confusion, shortness of breath, rapid breathing or severe pain (with no obvious cause).
  7. There are no specific diagnostic tests for sepsis. Diagnosis is based on clinical examination which is why it is critical to seek prompt medical attention if there is any concern for sepsis.  
  8. Taking measures to prevent infection, such as hand washing, vaccinations, and smoking cessation (since chronic lung disease is a risk factor), can help prevent infections that could lead to sepsis.
  9. There are likely genetic components and other biological factors that make some people more susceptible to developing sepsis in response to an infection. Ongoing research continues to help us understand sepsis and the optimal treatment supporting the goal to improve early diagnosis and improve outcomes. 
  10. Seek medical attention if you have an infection and any signs or symptoms of sepsis. Early identification and treatment are critical in improving survival and reducing complications.
Improving public awareness of sepsis can save lives. By educating patients and the public, you can make a difference by encouraging someone to seek treatment for this medical emergency that can potentially be overlooked and mistaken for other less threatening illness. Are there any other important items you routinely educate your patients and families about to improve awareness of sepsis? If so, please share your expertise with us.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Sepsis Questions and Answers. Updated April 13, 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/sepsis/basic/qa.html. Accessed August 21, 2017.  
Hall, M.J., Williams, S.N, DeFrances, C.J, & Golosinkiy, A. (2011). Inpatient Care for Septicemia or Sepsis: A Challenge for Patients and Hospital. NCHS Data Brief No. 62, June 2011. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db62.htm. Accessed August 22, 2017.
Torio, C.M. & Moore, B.J. (2016). National Inpatient Hospital Costs: The Most Expensive Conditions by Payer, 2013. Statistical Brief #204. Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) Statistical Briefs. May 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK368492/#sb204.s2. Accessed August 20, 2017
National Institutes of Health (NIH): National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Sepsis Fact Sheet. Updated January 2017. https://www.nigms.nih.gov/education/pages/factsheet_sepsis.aspx. Accessed August 22, 2017.

Posted: 9/19/2017 10:39:22 AM by Lisa Bonsall, MSN, RN, CRNP | with 2 comments

Ty for bringin this up. I'm still not loving the qSOFA criteria changes
10/18/2017 5:10:48 PM

Debbie Brinkofski
interested in your info and great articles.
9/26/2017 1:47:52 PM