This is a post prepared under a contract funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and written on behalf of the Mom It Forward Influencer Network for use in CDC’s Get Ahead of Sepsis educational effort. Opinions on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CDC.
Have you ever heard of sepsis? Chance are, you haven't.
I hadn't, before it killed my mother.
My mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2013, and that was of course the root cause of her passing, but she developed an infection that led to sepsis, and sepsis was what took her life in the end.
She had a stent (a small mesh tube) inserted into a bile duct that her tumor was pressing shut. That stent became infected, but it couldn't be taken out as it was keeping her digestive system functioning. The antibiotics being used to treat the infection weren't working, and she was having a whole host of other issues as the result of chemo and a weakening immune system. The symptoms of sepsis weren't noticed until it was too late. She developed septic shock (the most serious complication of sepsis) and died 12 hours later.
For more information about how to prevent infections in cancer patients, please click here.
The Truth About Sepsis
You don't have to have cancer to develop sepsis; it starts with a simple infection. Anyone can get an infection, and almost any infection can lead to sepsis.
It is true that certain groups are more likely to develop sepsis (adults over age 65; people with chronic conditions like diabetes, lung disease, cancer, or kidney disease; people with weakened immune systems; children younger than one), but it can happen to anyone, even healthy normal adults.
So what is sepsis?
Sepsis is the body's extreme reaction to an infection. It triggers a chain reaction that leads to multiple organ failure.
Sounds bad, right?
You can get more in-depth information at the Get Ahead of Sepsis site from the CDC.
How can you tell if you're developing sepsis?
Sepsis symptoms can include one or more of the following:
- Confusion or disorientation
- Shortness of breath
- High heart rate
- Fever, or shivering, or feeling very cold
- Extreme pain or discomfort
- Clammy or sweaty skin
Of course, the symptoms above can happen with a variety of conditions, and you shouldn't assume you have sepsis just because you have a fever. But if you already have an infection, including a simple UTI, pneumonia, or a skin infection, it doesn't seem to be getting better, and you develop the above symptoms, you should talk to your doctor right away.
How can I prevent sepsis?
- Talk to your doctor or nurse about steps you can take to prevent infections. Some steps include taking good care of chronic conditions and getting recommended vaccines.
- Practice good hygiene, such as hand washing, and keeping cuts clean and covered until healed.
- Know the above symptoms of sepsis.
What if I suspect sepsis?
ACT FAST. Get medical care IMMEDIATELY if you suspect sepsis or have an infection that's not getting better or is getting worse.
Sepsis is a medical emergency. If you or your loved one suspect sepsis or has an infection that's not getting better or is getting worse, ask your doctor or nurse, “Could this infection be leading to sepsis?”
To learn more about sepsis and how to prevent infections, visit www.cdc.gov/sepsis.
For more information about antibiotic prescribing and use, visit www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use.
© 2018, Tara Ziegmont. All rights reserved.