September is sepsis awareness month
Sepsis can kill, but recognising sepsis early can mean the right treatment is given and can save lives. So around the world people are starting to run campaigns to raise awareness of this life-threatening condition. In England there are around 123,000 cases of sepsis and an estimated 37,000 deaths are due to the condition each year. Sepsis can be hard to diagnose but we have put a few tips together to help you recognise it.
What is sepsis?
Sepsis is also sometimes known as septicaemia or blood poisoning. It is a life-threatening reaction to infection.
It is fairly common for people to get infections and often these are easy for the body to deal with. Normally the body reacts to infection by mounting an immune response, which clears the infection but can make us feel unwell while we are fighting it. If the infection is cleared quickly the reaction can be quite mild, for example in the case of a cold, where fighting a virus can give us a sore throat, swollen glands and headache. However, sometimes the reaction to infection is severe and in an attempt to fight the infection the immune system begins to damage our own tissues and organs. This makes the person very unwell and is called sepsis.
Can I get sepsis?
It is possible for anyone of any age to get sepsis. However, it is more common in people with a weakened immune system. Those at highest risk of sepsis include babies under 1 year of age, people over 75 years, anyone with conditions affecting the immune system or some chronic conditions such as diabetes, people who have recently had surgery or women who are pregnant or have just given birth.
How do I know if it is sepsis?
It can be difficult to tell if you are developing sepsis so if in doubt seek medical attention. Here are some checklists to help you recognise the signs, which are different in adults and children:
In adults think SEPSIS:
S: Slurred speech / confusion
E: Extreme shivering / muscle pain
P: Passing no urine in a day
S: Severe breathlessness
I: It feels like you’re going to die
S: Skin mottled / discoloured
In babies and young children symptoms suggesting an emergency are:
Blue, pale or blotchy skin
A rash that doesn’t disappear when you roll a glass over it
Difficulty breathing / breathing very fast
A weak high-pitched cry unlike their normal cry
Not responding like they normally do
Being sleepier than normal
What should I do if I think someone has sepsis?
If you recognise the signs and symptoms above and you believe someone has sepsis the best thing is to help them seek medical advice urgently.
If they seem confused it would be good for someone who knows what medications they are on and any allergies they have to accompany them to see the doctor, but only if this won’t cause any delays.
What will happen when I see a doctor for sepsis?
If you or your child see a doctor for these symptoms they will want to do some tests such as:
- blood pressure
- rate of breathing
- heart rate
- level of oxygen (using a monitor on the end of your finger)
and they may ask you some questions to assess your level of consciousness.
This is because there are some early warning signs of sepsis, which flag to the doctor that you are developing sepsis. If you are diagnosed with sepsis you may need treatment in hospital including antibiotics.
Watching out for the signs and symptoms of sepsis can save lives. Don’t delay – be sepsis aware today!