Sepsis: What You Need to Know

Sepsis: What You Need to KnowSepsis is one of those conditions that few people in the general public know much about, yet, more than 250,000 of the more than one million cases in the US each year result in death. Of those cases, seniors — people over the age of 65 — make up almost 70 percent.

Typically, sepsis is a complication of another infection, such as pneumonia, skin infections, kidney infection, or blood infections, in people with weakened immune systems. Sepsis results from an over production of the chemicals the body uses to fight infection that trigger an abnormal inflammatory response throughout the body and its organs.

The condition has three stages:

  1. Sepsis
  2. Severe sepsis
  3. Septic shock

Identifying sepsis early is key to recovery. Here are the symptoms to watch for:

SEPSIS – First Stage

  • Temperature over 101-degrees or below 96.8-degrees
  • Heart rate over 90 beats per minute
  • Respiratory rate over 20 breaths per minute

Remember, that this condition is generally preceded by another type of infection, so staying abreast of your loved-ones overall health is important to spotting the signs of sepsis.

SEVERE SEPSIS – Second Stage

If sepsis is not caught during the first stage, it can develop into a severe form that can be more difficult to treat successfully. Symptoms of this stage include:

  • Dramatically reduced urine output
  • Change in mental status – disorientation, confusion
  • Decreased platelet count
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Abnormal heart beat
  • Abdominal pain

From this point, the condition can deteriorate into septic shock with these additional symptoms:

SEPTIC SHOCK – Third Stage

  • All of the symptoms of Severe Sepsis plus
  • Extremely low blood pressure that does not respond to fluid replacement treatment

Additional symptoms can include patches of discolored skin and extreme weakness.

Septic shock has a 50-percent mortality rate, and is the second leading cause of death in non coronary ICU cases.

Those who do survive have an increased risk of a second occurrence and may also suffer from Post Sepsis Syndrome, which includes damaged organs, insomnia, nightmares, muscle and joint pain, poor concentration, fatigue, lowered cognitive function and lowered self-esteem.

Prevention Is Key

While sepsis is a worrisome condition, particularly for the elderly, beyond treating it early, there are ways to help avoid it, including:

Monitoring overall health. This is particularly necessary in situations where loved ones may be receiving treatment for cancer that can suppress the body’s immune system, those who have received organ replacements, or those who have been bed ridden or hospitalized for prolonged periods.

Urinary tract infections, kidney and other organ infections, as well as skin infections resulting from bedsores or skin tears can also lead to sepsis.

Drinking plenty of water. Many seniors do not drink enough water. Encouraging them to drink enough fluid is paramount to their overall health and to avoiding conditions such as sepsis.

Exercise. People who are inactive are more likely to suffer from pressure sores, lack of muscle tone, fatigue and other physical debilities that opportunistic bacteria and viruses can exploit. Staying active is a good way to promote overall health, and it doesn’t mean going to gym everyday. Simple activities such as walking, gentle stretching and light weight-bearing activities can have tremendously positive affects on health and well-being.

Good skin care. Ensure that your loved ones are bathing sufficiently and moisturizing their skin. Skin tends to become thinner and more brittle with age, creating opportunities for bacteria to enter and cause infections.

Routine check-ups. Older adults, particularly those suffering from chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure or diabetes, need more frequent check-ups with their physician.

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Source: Dee Childers