When most of us think of deadly health problems, heart disease and cancer are the first things that come to mind. After all, these diseases are the leading causes of death in the U.S., according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Not every health issue is a disease, though, at least not exactly. In some cases, an illness can lead to a life-threatening complication, and that’s the case with sepsis.
Though you might not have heard of it before, sepsis is a lot more common than you think. In fact, the National Institute of General Medical Science says more than a million Americans are affected each year, and 28% to 50% of those people end up dying from the condition. So what exactly is this complication and what should you know about it? Read on to find out.
What is sepsis?
Sepsis is a complication that can develop when the immune system overwhelmingly responds to infection, according to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. When this happens, the huge influx of immune chemicals leads to blood clots and leaky blood vessels. As a result, your organs don’t get the oxygen or nutrients that they need to function properly. In severe cases, this leads to septic shock, which may cause multiple organs to fail and even death.
Who is at risk for sepsis and how do they get it?
According to WebMD, the elderly, newborns, and people who have chronic disease or weakened immune systems are at the greatest risk. That being said, anyone can get sepsis if they have an infection. This includes the kinds you can get from scrapes or cuts, though pneumonia and other serious infections are much more worrisome. Since everyone’s body responds differently to infection, there’s no way to know whether or not someone will develop sepsis. This means everyone needs to pay attention to the warning signs.
What are the signs and symptoms?
There aren’t many symptoms unique to the condition in its early stages, but WebMD says you can look out for quick breathing, sudden change in alertness, low body temperature, nausea, and rapid heart rate. These symptoms obviously look similar to a lot of other health problems, so you really need to be in tune to such signs because, as the CDC points out, it progresses very quickly.
If you know you have an infection and notice it’s not going away or getting worse, make sure to seek help promptly. On the positive side, the same article from the CDC says many people make a full recovery without ill effects. You just have to catch it early.
How can you prevent it?
The best way to ward off sepsis is to prevent your body from getting infections in the first place. Sepsis Alliance says this includes getting vaccinated for viral infections, properly caring for wounds, and regularly practicing healthy habits that get rid of bacteria like washing your hands. These steps are simple, so it’s worth doing everything you can to minimize your risk.