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Recognizing Sepsis: May 16, 2019

It can present with symptoms like confusion, shortness of breath and a productive cough. “With sepsis, it’s very vague. The symptoms are vague, and the signs are vague,” said Dr. Keith Lafferty, an emergency medicine physician with Lee Health.

Sepsis happens when the body’s immune system exaggerates its response to an infection. “There’s collateral damage so instead of engulfing and taking away the bacteria or the virus or what have you, it’s actually doing the same to our normal tissues, and that’s what happens in sepsis,” said Dr. Lafferty.

Things like pneumonia, abdominal infections, and urinary tract infections can lead to sepsis. Studies show before 2001, about 47 percent of patients would die from sepsis.

“For a while about ten years ago, there were very rigid protocols that we all adhered to in terms of the treatment of sepsis, but now we’ve pretty much boiled it down and simplified it to a few key elements,” explained Dr. Kenneth Tolep, medical director of ICU HealthPark Medical Center.

Those elements include early recognition, immediate start of antibiotics, and restoring normal blood pressure.

“Sepsis is still at the end of the day; it’s a syndrome so there’s not a blood test to say you have sepsis or you do not have sepsis. It’s a constellation of markers,” said Dr. Tolep.

And while things like age, cancer, and sickness can put patients at a higher risk for developing sepsis, doctors say it can happen to anyone. “Basically if you think you’re sick and you’re not getting better, go get medical attention,” said Dr. Tolep.

With education, early recognition, and immediate treatment, more patients are surviving what could be a deadly infection.


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