Your Health Ben Brown | 7 years ago

Understanding and Preventing Sepsis

By Alan Heffner, MD Every year, more than one million Americans fight sepsis, a serious condition that not many people know about. In fact, it is more common than heart attack and more harmful than stroke, killing one person every two minutes. Sepsis can affect anyone with an infection and, because it can get worse quickly, it is important that you learn how you can catch it in its early stages. With sepsis, every minute matters – acting fast improves a patient’s chance for a healthy recovery and survival.  

What is Sepsis?

Sepsis is a condition that can form in the body when a person has an infection. This happens when the body’s immune system reacts negatively toward that infection. This reaction can become overwhelming for the body and can lead to a “severe” case of sepsis – this means organ failure and, in some cases, death. Who is at risk for Sepsis? Anyone with an infection can get sepsis. However, the following individuals are at greater risk: • The elderly • Children and infants • People with weakened immune systems • People with urinary tract infections and pneumonia • People with chronic illnesses like diabetes, AIDS, cancer, kidney disease or liver disease • People who have experienced a severe burn or physical trauma • People who have been admitted and discharged from a hospital over the past 30 days

How do I know if I have sepsis?

Sepsis can develop unpredictably and can progress rapidly, with few "warning signs" compared to other conditions. Because sepsis can be difficult to recognize, it's important that you pay attention to your health and seek medical attention for severe infections like pneumonia or urinary tract infection. Seek help if you or someone you know has an infection and has the following symptoms: dizziness, overwhelming fatigue, low blood pressure or difficulty breathing.

What can I do to avoid getting sepsis?

The best way to reduce your risk for sepsis is by avoiding infections as much as possible. If you are being treated for an infection or must take medications to cure an infection, make sure you treat it quickly and take the medications completely. Use antibiotics wisely and follow good infection control practices like cleaning your hands frequently and cleaning cuts. Where can I go for diagnosis or treatment of sepsis? If you believe that you or someone you know may have sepsis, call your doctor's office right away or visit your nearest urgent care location. If symptoms persist or worsen within a day or two, visit your nearest emergency department. Learn more at  

Alan Heffner, MD, is a physician specializing in critical care and emergency medicine at Carolinas Medical Center.