How Sepsis can be so Dangerous
With the tragic news of the death of the toddler William Mead in 2014, sepsis has once again made headlines this week as Jeremy Hunt attended a memorial service for the little boy in Cornwall. Fresh concerns have, once again, been raised about it’s diagnosis and treatment.
But what is it?
Sepsis used to be termed “septicaemia” and happens when immune chemicals leak into the bloodstream triggering the body’s immune system to go into overdrive. This can lead to blood clots and leaking vessels thus impairing blood flow and preventing the body’s organs from receiving the required oxygen and nutrients. If the immune system overacts in this way, the body can go into shock resulting in major organ failure and even death. It can be triggered by a simple cut or infection.
But how big a problem is it?
In November 2015 the National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome and Death (NCEPOD) suggests that there are as many as 200,000 cases of sepsis a year in the UK and up to 60,000 deaths. This is more than breast, bowel and prostate cancer combined.
The health secretary Jeremy Hunt has suggested that up to 12,000 of these deaths could be avoided.
The symptoms to look out for in a child include:
- An abnormally low temperature
- A fever or high temperature
- Feeling cold to the touch
- Having very pale or mottled skin
- Having a rash that does not fade
- Having a fit or convulsing
- Difficult to rouse
- Rapid rate of breathing
- For a baby or a child under five, not eating or having a wee in a 12 hour period
Adult symptoms can include the following:
- Mottled or discoloured skin
- Confusion or slurred speech
- Severe breathlessness
- No urine passed in a 12 hour period
- Extreme shivering or muscle pain
- A terrible feeling often described as “I feel like I might die”
A combination of some of these symptoms can be a sign that the organs such as the lungs, kidneys and brain, are failing. Immediate medical attention should be sought if only to eliminate other conditions. According to the NCEPOD report, GPs and hospital doctors are failing to spot signs of sepsis- often mistaking it for flu- and are diagnosing the condition too late.
What can be done to treat sepsis?
Relatively simple treatment can be life-saving if the condition is spotted early. Patients may be given antibiotics and fluids through a drip. Oxygen can also help. But once there is a deterioration, intensive care may be needed for extra support.
A campaign has been started whereby front line medical staff will be trained to spot the early signs quickly. Doctors and staff on NHS helplines will also be helped so that the signs are flagged up in the diagnostic process.
If you would like more advice click on this link to the UK Sepsis Trust
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