sepsis

Suspected sepsis, known as the ‘silent killer’, should be treated as a serious emergency, similarly to someone having a heart attack, says England’s health watchdog, NICE. We look into what causes sepsis as well as the signs, symptoms and treatment of this potentially fatal infection.

New guidelines from NICE (The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence) are advising doctors to look out for sepsis when treating people with infections.

What is sepsis?

Sepsis, also referred to as blood poisoning or septicaemia, is a potentially life-threatening condition, triggered by an infection or injury.

It affects 150,000 people every year in the UK, including 10,000 children, and leads to around 44,000 deaths. However, it is now thought that this figure could be reduced by between roughly 5,000 to 13,000, each year.

Initial symptoms of sepsis can often be vague, and can be hard to recognise apart from other conditions, which is why it is often referred to as the ‘silent killer’.

The health watchdog is now saying that GPs, paramedics and hospital staff should always ask themselves: ‘Could this be sepsis’, straight away when treating anyone who is unwell with an infection.

This is in the same way that a doctor’s first consideration for someone with chest pains is: ‘Could this be a heart attack?’

It’s important for mums to make sure their child is checked for sepsis as early as possible, if they have an infection or injury.

Why is sepsis so dangerous?

Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening condition, triggered by an infection or injury.

The body’s immune system goes into overdrive, setting off a series of reactions, including widespread inflammation, swelling and blood clotting.

This can lead to a significant decrease in blood pressure, which can mean the blood supply to vital organs such as the brain, heart and kidneys, is reduced.

If not treated quickly, sepsis can eventually lead to multiple organ failure and death.

Signs and symptoms of sepsis

Early symptoms of sepsis usually develop quickly and can include:

a high temperature (fever)
chills and shivering
a fast heartbeat
fast breathing
In some cases, symptoms of more severe sepsis or septic shock (when your blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level) develop soon after. These can include:

feeling dizzy or faint
confusion or disorientation
nausea and vomiting
diarrhoea
cold, clammy and pale or mottled skin
slurred speech
severe muscle pain
severe breathlessness
less urine production than normal (for example, not weeing for a day)
cold hands and feet

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