Learn to look out for sepsis – spotting the signs could save a life
Since I last wrote in this column there have been many healthcare stories that would merit more than mere acknowledgement here. Not least, Ian Patterson was convicted and sentenced for performing unnecessary cosmetic operations, giving rise to a High Court compensation award totalling some £30m and, in our own area, a report criticised the provision of mental health services by Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.
On this occasion, however, I would like to shine a spotlight on sepsis, also known as the silent killer. According to a recent BBC Panorama documentary, sepsis kills about 44,000 people in the UK each year – but what is it, and what are the tell-tale signs?
Sepsis starts with an infection that can come from anywhere, even a contaminated cut or an innocent-looking insect bite. When sepsis occurs your immune system kicks in to fight the infection and stop it spreading. However, if the infection is serious enough or spreads before being treated, your body will respond by launching a massive immune response to fight it and this over-reaction can have a catastrophic effect on your body resulting in septic shock, organ failure and, in some circumstances, death.
Sepsis is a serious medical condition that requires early diagnosis and prompt treatment, usually with antibiotics, to halt its spread. It is also a serious burden on the resources and finances of the National Health Service with an estimated annual cost to the NHS of more than £1.6 billion a year, according to the York Health Economics Consortium.
So what signs should you look out for? The UK Sepsis Trust advocates a pneumonic that focusses on several key symptoms to spell SEPSIS: Slurred speech or confusion, Extreme shivering or muscle pain, Passing no urine in a 24-hour period, Severe breathlessness, It feels like you’re going to die, your Skin is mottled or discoloured. The condition is viewed so seriously that recent medical guidelines instruct doctors to treat the signs of sepsis as urgently as the signs of a suspected heart attack.
We should all be vigilant – look out for the signs of sepsis and always seek early treatment.
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