Understanding Sepsis: April 1, 2019

It’s a life-threatening complication that can start from an infection. “Sepsis happens when a patient has an infection, and our body’s immune system, which is designed to fight the infection leads to some abnormal and adverse consequences,” explained Dr. Kenneth Tolep, ICU medical director at HealthPark Medical Center.

Those consequences cause the body to start shutting down as it fights the infection. “One of the hardest things that we deal with every day in the emergency department is that it’s so hard to identify many people who have sepsis because there’s not one presentation,” said Dr. Tolep.

Sepsis can present in many different ways---including a productive cough, confusion, shortness of breath, even shutting down of bodily functions. “It can happen anywhere. There are a lot of people who are just going to their primary care doctor and have a cold or bronchitis, and it can turn into pneumonia, and it can turn into sepsis,” he said.

Because there’s no specific test to diagnose sepsis, health experts at Lee Health carefully evaluate the patient to determine the diagnosis. “It’s really a constellation of our interviews, our examination, our review of the diagnostic studies. When people are developing sepsis the blood vessels within the body dilate, and as a result, the blood pressure goes low,” explained Dr. Tolep.

Early recognition and treatment have proven to save lives. “We’ve seen a significant reduction in mortality. The most recent statistic for the current year to date is that mortality rates are down to 17 percent and were over 22 to 25 percent just a few years ago,” he said.

Working together, health experts are saving lives and bringing recognition to a deadly infection.