If you are like me, sepsis wasn’t a word I was very familiar with, let along knew anything significant about until somewhat recently. In fact, many in the medical community aren’t as familiar with it as they should be, but that is changing quickly. There isn’t a home test you can take to see if you have it, so sepsis screening must be done in at a healthcare facility. But, if you have a sepsis infection, you will probably be heading for the emergency room as we speak.
It isn’t that sepsis hasn’t been on the radars of healthcare organizations for a long time, in fact it is the costliest condition to treat, according to a 2013 study showing an annual cost of almost $24 billion.
Part of the reason that there is such a financial burden is due to delays in assessing and treating. This is because the symptoms tend to be generalized and non-specific in nature. They include:
- A feeling of being overly chilled, with a fever
- Extreme pain, but may not be in a specific location
- Paleness or discoloration of skin color
- High level of confusion or disorientation
- Hard to arouse from sleep
- Inability to take deep breaths
- Continuously high heartrate
As you might see, these symptoms can and do occur with many other non-life-threatening conditions, and for this reason, medical staff haven’t always screened for sepsis or begun any treatments to fight sepsis infections, which can to irreparable physical and mental damage as the infections spreads throughout the body
Many hospitals and health organizations have founding and installed software that helps to screen for and alert staff of possible sepsis infection cases upon admissions. This initial sepsis screening takes the information that is recorded at admittance, usually into the emergency department, and can let the team know if the person meets certain criteria and thus is at a low, medium or high level for being a candidate with sepsis. This preliminary step can pull out possible identified patients and begin a more thorough sepsis screening.
A true diagnosis of sepsis requires a blood test that will check for a number of issues or sepsis identifiers. Specifically, what physicians are looking for in a blood test will be:
- Positive test for infection, such as bacteria in the blood
- Problems with the blood clotting
- Indications of atypical liver or kidney output
- Low oxygen levels in the blood
- Imbalance in electrolyte levels
- Low blood platelet count
If necessary, there are further tests that can be used for sepsis screening, especially to identify the type of bacteria or other pathogen that is poisoning the body. Whether this be urine test, sample of wound discharge, or imaging scans, they are all essential tools that can be called upon to help classify the type of sepsis infection and the best treatment to get rid of it as quickly as possible.
Initial treatment upon a positive sepsis screening is to administer a broad-spectrum antibiotic until a more specific antibiotic can be given. Along with this, intravenous fluid to help support the patient, a vasopressor may also be given due to the many patients presenting with low blood pressure. The vasopressor helps to constrict the blood vessels, which in turn brings the blood pressure up.
The down side to all of this is that patients have to be admitted to the ICU for several days up to several weeks, depending upon the severity, and how well the patient takes to the treatment, and if there are other underlying factors that may play into how well they are able to recover.
What hospitals are feverishly working on is if they are able to identify patients with sepsis sooner, getting them started on treatments quicker, and boost immune response systems for the patient, the time and costs related to that patient should be decreased. This is especially important because long-term effects for severe sepsis cases have comprised of patients who have had fingers and toes amputated due to acute cases of inflammation, organ failure, and brain damage. In fact, it is estimated that between 25 and 50% of all cases of sepsis end in the patient passing away. Thus, the sooner sepsis screening, no matter what form it takes, can happen, the more likely a positive outcomes will result.
Sepsis shouldn’t be on the radar of hospitals and healthcare organizations alone, but should be a condition that we as an informed public should be aware of. With the number of sepsis patients on the rise and the steep costs that are involved, as well as lost time and possible lasting permanent effects, we can help medical professionals by becoming educated.