Sepsis is called the silent killer because it kills people without them knowing it. It is thought to kill 11 million people yearly, more than cancer. Even though sepsis can be prevented and treated, it is still dangerous because its symptoms often look like other illnesses, making it hard to spot.
What is sepsis?
Sepsis is an infection that spreads through the blood. It can lead to life-threatening conditions like very low blood pressure, failure of organs all over the body (usually the lungs), and death.
Symptoms of sepsis
The symptoms of sepsis differ from person to person and rely on what caused the infection. The person will have the symptoms of the cause and the symptoms of sepsis. Sepsis can cause a wide range of symptoms, such as low blood pressure that makes a person feel dizzy, fever, confusion, shortness of breath, and low oxygen levels.
What makes sepsis happen?
Any infection can cause sepsis in any place. Some of the most common causes are skin infections, lung infections like pneumonia, or urinary tract infections. Meningitis and encephalopathy, tooth or belly abscesses, and heart valve infections are less common causes of sepsis.
Any organ can become infected with a microorganism that can cause sepsis. When the disease moves out of the organ and into the bloodstream, it worsens sepsis and makes death more likely.
How does sepsis get diagnosed?
You need to know a lot about the patient’s health and have a high level of suspicion. When you think someone has an infection based on their medical history and physical exam, clinical tests are designed to find it. So, you might get a complete blood count (CBC) and blood work that shows how well your liver and kidneys are working.
You might also get a chest x-ray or an electrocardiogram (ECG). You should also get blood cultures and, if possible, a sample from the organ you think is infected, such as the urinary system.
Since the results of these tests can take days to come back, sepsis is often thought to be the problem before positive cultures confirm it. To start treatment, the doctor needs to have a moderate to strong suspicion, and they need to be careful not to give too many antibiotics, which leads to antibiotic resistance.
What is the danger of sepsis?
Sepsis can be mildly dangerous or even kill the person who has it. The problem is that there aren’t many accurate ways to tell which patients will get a disease that could kill them. Some patients are in a clear risk group, like those who are older, have a weak immune system, or are getting treatment for cancer.
But for some people, the condition’s intensity comes as a total surprise. So, there are also people with healthy immune systems who can die from sepsis. This is why treating sepsis is so important as soon as you know you have it or think you might have it. About 8% more people die from sepsis every hour it goes untreated.
Early diagnosis of sepsis improves the chance of getting better
Since the severity of sepsis is hard to predict, early diagnosis often means early treatment, which increases the chances of getting better. Even if sepsis is only suspected, treatment usually starts immediately because it could be too late.
The prognosis for sepsis
It is very hard to tell how the illness will progress when someone has sepsis. Whether or not the patient is in a risk group can give a clue about how bad the symptoms might get and whether or not they could be life-threatening.
How dangerous sepsis could get depends on how far along the disease is when it is found, and treatment begins. Early diagnosis and treatment lead to better results and make complications or death less likely.
The treatments for sepsis
Fluids, antibiotics, and stopping the infection’s source are the most important parts of treating sepsis. The treatment must begin within the first three hours after a possible diagnosis, preferably within the first hour.
Since fluids are easier to get, they are often given to the patient first. Then antibiotics that are meant to kill the suspected organism are given. When antibiotics are given, they should cover a wide range of organisms. Once the organism is known, the antibiotics can be narrowed.
Who might have sepsis?
Patients with weakened immune systems or older are more likely to get sepsis, which can be fatal. A recent stay in an intensive care unit, diabetes, obesity, cancer, pneumonia, and a recent hospital stay are also risk factors. Sepsis may also be more likely to happen because of your genes.
How can technologies like clinical decision support help fight sepsis?
Clinical decision support (CDS) systems, such as UpToDate, help doctors figure out how to treat sepsis. CDS can help find sepsis early and let doctors know about it. When a patient’s test results and vital signs point to sepsis, electronic health records (EHRs) can automatically send “early alerts.”
Real-time interactive sepsis monitoring tools, like POC Advisor, look at a wide range of EHR data to find patients who are at risk and send early warning alerts. Natural Language Processing (NLP) and other artificial intelligence tools are used to speed up this process even more. NLP can take clinically helpful info from free-text narratives and send it to the decision-support algorithms in POC Advisor.
These clinically updated algorithms improve the accuracy of alerts and cut down on false positives for conditions that look like sepsis symptoms. As CDS gets smarter, these technologies can help even more with early fluid management (such as the type and rate of fluids), choosing the right antibiotics, and quickly figuring out how to control the source of infection.