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How to spot the signs of sepsis

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According to the UK Sepsis Trust, around 250,000 cases of sepsis occur in the UK each year. Approximately 48,000 will die as a result of sepsis. Around 40% of survivors will have one or more physical or mental side effects. Sepsis kills more patients than bowel, breast or prostate cancer in one year.

Read on to learn who is most likely to be affected by sepsis, what symptoms to look out for and how to help someone who you suspect may have it.

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that arises when the body’s response to an infection injures its own tissues and organs, UK Sepsis Trust 2022.

Sepsis happens when your body’s response to an infection sends your immune system into overdrive. This could include a urine infection in the bladder, an infected cut or animal bite, a surgical wound, or a severe chest infection such as pneumonia, including Covid-19, meningitis, or abdominal sepsis caused by a burst appendix or perforated bowel or MRSA or C. diff.

As your immune system begins to trigger inflammation, your blood pressure drops, reducing the blood supply and oxygen to your body’s tissues and vital organs, leading to multiple organ failure, especially if not recognised early and treated promptly.

It can lead to septic shock, which causes profound circulatory, cellular and metabolic deterioration and is associated with a greater risk of mortality.

What are the symptoms of sepsis?

The symptoms of sepsis in adults can vary and may be mistaken for flu, gastroenteritis, or a chest infection. They include:

 S Slurred speech or new confusion

 E Extreme shivering or muscle pain

 P Passing no urine (in a day)

 S severe breathlessness

 I It feels like you are going to die

 S Skin is mottled, discoloured or very pale

Other symptoms may include:

The symptoms of sepsis in adults can vary and may be mistaken for flu, gastroenteritis, or a chest infection. They include:

  • A fever, chills, or shivering
  • A rash that doesn’t fade if you roll a glass over it
  • A rapid heartbeat and fast breathing
  • Feeling dizzy, confused, and disoriented
  • Feeling nauseous or vomiting

Who is most likely to get sepsis?

Sepsis can affect anyone, regardless of age or health. However, some people are more likely than others to develop sepsis after injury or infection such as:

  • Children under one year of age
  • People aged over 75 years
  • People with diabetes
  • People with a lowered immune system, such as organ recipients or those receiving cancer treatment
  • Someone who has recently had surgery
  • Someone who is pregnant or has recently given birth
  • Someone who has an indwelling medical device in their bodies such as a catheter, or a long term intravenous line

How can I avoid developing sepsis?

It’s not always possible to prevent sepsis; however, there are some things you can do to avoid an infection that could lead to you developing sepsis:

  • Ensure you’ve been fully vaccinated, especially if you’re pregnant or over 75
  • Wash your hands thoroughly, especially after using the toilet and before eating
  • Clean any wounds
  • Follow your clinician’s instructions if they’ve prescribed antibiotics – and ensure you always finish the full course, even when you start feeling better

What should I do if I suspect someone has sepsis?

If you notice that you have one or more of the symptoms of sepsis, you should call 999 or visit your local A&E immediately as it can quickly turn into septic shock without treatment. This is a life-threatening condition.

Once you arrive at hospital, you’ll be given antibiotics immediately. Ensure that you, or the person with you, advises staff if you have an allergy to antibiotics.

You may also have other tests or treatment and you may need to stay in hospital.

How long does it take to recover from sepsis?

Most people make a full recovery from sepsis; however it can take a long time to recover, often six months to a year. Some people may continue to have symptoms even after they leave hospital. This is known as post-sepsis syndrome and could include:

  • Feeling very tired or weak
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Mood changes, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Cognitive issues, such as problems with memory
  • A higher likelihood of getting ill

It’s important that you take time to recover from sepsis. There are some things you can do to lessen the long-term effects such as gentle exercise and getting help with your sleeping habits.

Your GP will be able to advise you on how to manage physical and emotional symptoms and support is also available from charities such as The UK Sepsis Trust. Find out more about our Private GP services at Benenden Hospital.

Infection control at Benenden Hospital

At our CQC rated Outstanding hospital, the health and wellbeing of everyone is our priority, whether you’re a patient, a visitor or a member of our team.

Reducing the risk of infection has always been and remains a priority for us and we’ve had no cases of hospital acquired infections such as MRSA or Clostridium Difficile (C.diff) as far as our records go back.

Whilst not all infections are preventable, a proportion of healthcare-associated infections are. With that in mind, infection prevention and control and basic hygiene are at the heart of good management and clinical practice and therefore vitally important to the work we do at Benenden Hospital.

We’re proud of our infection control record. Whether you're an inpatient for surgery or attending an outpatient appointment, we'll keep you safe during your time at our spacious CQC Outstanding hospital. Find out about the measures we’ve put in place so that you can relax during your time with us.

Published on 12 September 2023