Sepsis infections pose a great danger to senior citizens. It spreads rapidly and shuts the body down quickly. If not caught and treated early, sepsis infections can be lethal.
Sepsis Infections: What Is it?
Sepsis infections are a complication that happens when your body tries to fight off an infection, such as pneumonia, a urinary tract infection or a gastrointestinal infection. The immune system goes into overdrive, releasing chemicals into the bloodstream to fight the infection. That causes a chain reaction of events, culminating in a dangerous inflammation throughout the entire body.
Left untreated, sepsis can lead to septic shock, with a drastic drop in blood pressure that causes heart or respiratory failure, stroke and organ failure.
Sepsis infections sneak up on you, spread quickly — and are deadly if not caught right away and treated.
The numbers are grim: According to the Centers For Disease Control (CDC), about 1.7 million Americans get sepsis every year, and 270,000 die from the illness. That comes out to one dead person every 2 minutes.
Thirty-three percent of hospitalized patients die from sepsis infections. And, those patients that do survive, are left with post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, fatigue, organ dysfunction, amputations, and cognitive and functional impairments. Moreover, these patients will likely have to rely on caregivers or an excellent skilled nursing facility.
And, despite these bad statistics, few people even know this killer disease exists. Public awareness of sepsis is low. For example, a 2018 Sepsis Alliance Awareness Survey found that 35 percent of Americans never heard of it. And, most people don’t know the signs or symptoms of the disease.
Sepsis Infections: Age Matters
Anyone can get sepsis, at any age, but senior citizens are most at risk. Indeed, people over age 65 make up 60 percent of sepsis cases. In fact, sepsis is the most common reason older adults are admitted to an intensive care unit. Individuals over age 65 are most susceptible to chronic illnesses, which increase the odds of sepsis-triggering infections. The most common is pneumonia, followed by urinary tract infections.
Many aged adults suffer from two or more chronic diseases. And, the medications they take further suppress their immune systems. Infections have an easy clear path to wreck havoc on internal organs.
Another problem is that infections can be hard to identify in older people. This makes it a challenge to get a prompt diagnosis and treatment.
For example, fever, the most common sign of sepsis, is absent in approximately 30 to 50 percent of older adults with infections. Another sign of sepsis, mental status, may go unnoticed if a medical team is unfamiliar with a patient’s mental status prior to admission.
Urinary tract infections can also be tricky. The usual symptoms are burning, frequency, urgency or pain. But in older individuals, the first sign may be a change in mental status. They may become disoriented, so the infection could be present — and left untreated — for a long time before it is noticed.
Where Does Sepsis Start?
According to the CDC, most cases of sepsis start outside a health care setting.
Research shows that poor hygiene, such as lack of hand washing or improper hand washing — is the No. 1 cause of infection. Health care providers not wearing gloves when providing care and not changing gloves between patients also puts patients at increased risk.
Other sources are pressure sores and exposure to invasive devices, such as catheters and breathing tubes.
The high rate of sepsis among senior citizens will increase as the aging population increases.
According to a 2016 study from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP), sepsis is responsible for nearly $24 billion in annual costs, making it the most expensive condition to treat in the U.S. health care system.
Fast Diagnosis And Treatment Is Key
Sepsis ranges from mild to severe, but the earlier you begin treatment, the better the outlook. However, less than 1 percent of Americans can correctly identify the most common symptoms.
To make things easier, Sepsis Alliance has developed the It’s About TIME campaign, to help recognize the symptoms. TIME stands for temperature, infection, mental decline and extremely ill. Here are the definitions:
- Temperature: Look for a fever of above 101 degrees Fahrenheit or a temperature below 96.8 degrees Fahrenheit, accompanied by shivering or feeling very cold.
- Infection: Signs include elevated blood sugars in those who have diabetes; wounds, sores or cuts that have redness, are warm to touch or painful. Get medical help immediately if infections being treated with antibiotics worsen or fail to improve.
- Mental decline: Those with sepsis may seem confused or disoriented, or they might be sleepy or difficult to arouse.
- Extremely ill: Quite simply, feeling extremely ill, be it discomfort or extreme pain, weakness or difficulty breathing.
If you suspect sepsis, get immediate medical attention. It’s a medical emergency.
Death from sepsis increases with every hour that passes before treatment begins.
Doctors evaluate the patient’s symptoms and order blood and urine tests, X-ray and/or Ct scans. Patients will be put on antibiotics to fight the infection. Where necessary, patients will also receive oxygen and intravenous fluids to help maintain their blood pressure levels.