Having spent a few months working in a hospital, it is not uncommon to see patients with sepsis -- especially in the intensive care unit (ICU). In fact, sepsis is one of the top three diagnoses that lead to ICU admissions in 2008. Every year, sepsis affects 30 million people worldwide. (that’s about the population of an entire Malaysia!)
Sepsis is not a catchy medical condition you hear all the time, but it is a very real threat that happens on a daily basis.
Imagine if you catch an infection, it’s a good thing that your body goes into a combat mode to fight off the bugs that cause you to feel sick. Your body does this by activating the immune system, which sends an army of white blood cells and inflammatory chemicals to the battleground. Your body enters into a mild inflammation state, but for a good reason: inflammatory chemicals are there to help the white blood cells kill off the incoming infection.
Okay, that’s great! But… What if the infection wins and becomes more severe?
*Infection evil laughs in Ursula*
Your immune system deploys even more white blood cells and inflammatory chemicals to fight off the nasty infection. The cycle can go on and on if the infection is not resolved, and your body goes into a serious and extensive inflammation that can start to destroy your organs. That’s sepsis -- It is your body’s extreme response to an infection.
Sepsis is not a disease, but certainly a life-threatening medical emergency that comes with many serious consequences. People with suspected sepsis must be hospitalised immediately and treated accordingly.
Almost any type of infection can lead to sepsis. Infections that lead to sepsis most often start in the lung, urinary tract, skin, or your digestive systems.
Sepsis can’t be spread to other people. However, since sepsis can be a result of an infection, some infections can still be spread to others. Most sepsis is caused by bacterial infections. It can also be a result of other infections, including viral infections, such as COVID-19 or influenza.
Sepsis is the last thing you want if you have an infection. Sepsis, if not handled properly, can lead to death. In 2017, sepsis-related deaths accounted for about 20% of all global deaths, and this number was actually higher than previously estimated.
Sepsis is concerning because it is known to cause multiple organ failures, i.e. it destroys your body organ and shut each down, and there’s no turning back after it is destroyed. The more severe the sepsis is, the more organs being destroyed by the patient’s own immune system, and the higher chances that he or she might die from sepsis.
Even if sepsis does not kill, it can lead to lifelong disabilities that affect one’s quality of life. Some people who survived sepsis has, unfortunately, experienced these conditions for the rest of their lives:
Having to amputate some of their body parts and live without them
General weakness and fatigue
General body pain or aches
Difficulty to walk or run
Reduced ability to carry out normal daily activities such as dressing up, bathing, eating or getting into bed.
The lyrics ‘what doesn't kill you make you stronger’ certainly does not apply to sepsis.
As soon as sepsis is diagnosed, the doctor would start treatment plan that primarily includes the following two components:
Giving appropriate treatment, including antibiotics
Maintaining blood flow to organs to prevent organ failures
Sometimes surgery is required to remove tissue damaged by the infection.
Doctors and nurses should treat sepsis with antibiotics as soon as possible. Antibiotics are critical tools for treating life-threatening infections, like those that can lead to sepsis. However, as antibiotic resistance grows, infections are becoming more difficult to treat, and that might mean that more people are at risk of getting sepsis in the future.
You can help to mitigate antibiotic resistance by following doctor’s instructions on how to take your antibiotics and do not take antibiotics unless it is prescribed by a doctor.
Anyone can get an infection, and almost any infection can lead to sepsis. Some people are at higher risk:
Adults aged 65 years old and older
People with long-term medical conditions such as diabetes, lung disease, cancer and kidney disease
People with weakened immune system, such as those with HIV, receiving chemotherapy or receiving immunosuppressive medications after organ transplantation
Children younger than one year old
Sepsis is not easy to identify, because its signs and symptoms are often broad, vague and non-specific. It may present different warning signs and symptoms at times, some of which may cause misidentification with other conditions. Nevertheless, here are some telltale signs of sepsis:
More importantly, always get medical help when you suspect you are having an infection. Do not sit on it. Take the medication as directed by your physician and take the day off if necessary.
The best way to treat sepsis is to prevent it from happening in the first place. If you have any long-term medical conditions, talk to your healthcare professional about steps you can take to prevent infections that can lead to sepsis. Examples are taking good care of your own medical conditions, as well as getting the recommended vaccines. Other times, we all should always practise good hygiene by washing our hands with soap and water regularly and keep any injuries clean and covered until healed.
Remember, sepsis is a medical emergency. If you or your loved one has an infection that’s not getting better or is getting worse, ACT FAST. Get medical care IMMEDIATELY in-person. If that is not possible, at least consult a healthcare professional on a telemedicine platform. Ask your healthcare professional, “Could this infection be leading to sepsis?” and if you should go to the emergency room for medical assessment. You can talk to our doctor on Doc2Us® online web chat or download our app on App Store, Play Store or App Gallery.
If you have a medical emergency, call 999. If you have or think you have sepsis, tell the operator. If you have or think you have COVID-19, tell the operator this as well. If possible, put on a mask before medical help arrives. For any enquiries related to COVID-19, you may consult Doc2Us® COVID-19 Task Force for free at https://web.doc2us.com/covid19/doctors.
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