Friday, January 14, 2011

Know the Danger of Sepsis!

Recently, because of my post last week which made a reference to septic shock, I was contacted by the Sepsis Alliance, a non-profit that is trying to help people understand and avoid the danger of sepsis. A google alert highlighted me to them - that I am a survivor of sepsis (going up right to the verge of severe sepsis/septic shock but did not go fully into either).

Since that time, I have become connected to the non-profit, and the physician, Dr. James O'Brien, M.D., who leads many of their medical efforts. Surprisingly, what the Septic Alliance will tell you is that a recent Harris Poll study showed that only 1 in 3 Americans have heard the term "Sepsis," and even fewer understood how extremely dangerous it is. The non-profit is geared toward changing that, since sepsis is a condition that a little education will go a VERY long way.

ANSWER THESE THREE QUESTIONS: While you might know sepsis by another name, "blood poisoning," that might still not get your attention to appreciate the danger of sepsis. Instead, what if I described it with three questions:

QUESTION NO. 1: If you knew there was a very horrible carnival ride that you could go on called septic shock/severe sepsis, that 40% who went on it would die a pretty horrible death after being in an ICU for 3-4 days, and of those that survived, a VAST majority of the remaining people would loose your kidneys, fingers, legs, arms or other organs, would you volunteer to go?

QUESTION NO. 2: What if I told you that any sort of infection you might have (post surgery wound, strep, H1N1/flu, appendicitis, pneumonia, scratch, whatever), at some point if it is left unaddressed long-enough without proper treatment, could fester, go septic, and once septic, at some point it could slide - in a matter of moments - from sepsis into septic shock or severe sepsis, would you feel lucky? What if I also told you that there is not a real scientific way to know at what point people might go from infection into sepsis, then into severe sepsis, in each individual. Would you gamble your life?

QUESTION NO. 3: What if I finally told you that if it is caught early enough and treated properly - all infections can be cured without sepsis. Even septic infections, like mine, if treated quickly enough with IV antibiotics, fluids, and careful monitoring, are survivable without consequences that are so horrible. If you could never go on the ride in Question No. 1 above, would you want that detour instead?

Yes, of course you would. Sepsis does not have to kill or disfigure. You just need to seek medical attention for any infection that is at all bad, make an appointment with your regular doctor when it first seems to arise. If you are at all fearful or suspect sepsis, voice that concern to your doctor, to the ER, to any other medical professional that sees you, so they can rule it out. Sepsis does not have to kill 215,000 Americans each year. It is a medical emergency, but with early detection and treatment, your outcome can be like mine - survival without organ loss or amputations. For those wanting more details, I provide more below.

In a nutshell sepsis is your body's response to a severe infection; once the body believes it is sufficiently endanger, it will cause a series of events that leads to cascading organ failure in short order, that will kill almost 1/2 those that experience it. Does everyone go septic with severe infections? I don't believe it is known, but many people will go septic in such situations at some point. For you to decide where that point is, without medical advise, if decided wrongly, puts you into Question No. 1 above. Once you enter the ride, though, and you won't know when it begins, it is one of the most deadly things you can face.

Clinically speaking, patients are given a diagnosis of sepsis when they develop clinical signs of infections or systemic inflammation; sepsis is not diagnosed based on the location of the infection or by the name of the causative microbe. Physicians draw from a list of signs and symptoms in order to make a diagnosis of sepsis, including abnormalities of body temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate, and white blood cell count. I was septic with a localized, severe pain, a fever that started to show at around 100, a high blood pressure, an extremely high white cell count (13,100), and a high pulse. Sepsis may be diagnosed in a 72-year-old man with pneumonia, fever, and a high white blood count, and in a 3-month-old with appendicitis, low body temperature, and a low white count.

Sepsis is defined as "severe" when these findings occur in association with signs of organ dysfunction, such as hypoxemia, oliguria, lactic acidosis, elevated liver enzymes, and altered cerebral function. Nearly all victims of severe sepsis require treatment in an intensive care unit for several days or weeks. While most cases of sepsis are associated with disease or injury, many events follow routine, even elective surgery. While some patients may enter severe sepsis by shock, not necessarily all do. More frightening is that sepsis can rage in response to incidents as seemingly benign as a playground scrape or a nicked cuticle from the beauty parlor. American hospitals spend approximately $20 billion each year combating sepsis, 40% of patients diagnosed with severe sepsis do not survive. Until a cure for sepsis is found, EARLY DETECTION is the surest hope for survival. If these stats frighten you, and they should get your attention, consider watching the videos on the Sepsis Alliance website at:

For stories of people less fortunate than me, see: Their website provides a lot of great things to look for so you are better informed about sepsis, to save your life and those of people close to you. If you see why I feel lucky surviving sepsis, share this blog with your friends so they know how to be lucky and wise, too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

James, thank you for your comments on my blog. I've lost your email address and hope this finds you. It's so inspiring to hear from a survivor of sepsis. You and your wife made some good decisions and at the right time which surely helped improve your odds. I know you thank God, as do I. Your blog is truly lovely. I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend, Lori. She sounds like an amazing woman, a champion. Thanks again for your thoughts and let me know if there's anything I can do to further the cause. Blessings, Susan Jackson