Simple precautions can reduce your risk for sepsis

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Cancer. Heart disease. Stroke. Everyone hears about these diseases all the time, and rightfully so, since they can lead to severe illness and even death.

However, the one disorder a lot of people do not have much knowledge of is sepsis. Simply put, sepsis is a complication, usually resulting from an infection, which is caused by the body’s response to that infection. This response is overwhelming and can affect several areas of the body, potentially leading to organ failure and death.

The reason sepsis awareness is not more prevalent is that sepsis is not specific to one organ system or area of the body. It can result from an infection anywhere in the body and can happen to anyone.

The risk of getting sepsis can be reduced by some simple measures. Get vaccinated against the flu and pneumonia. If you have a cut or scrape, be sure to wash it well with soap and water. Practice good hygiene, especially hand washing.

Are there some people more likely to get sepsis? Sure. Elderly people, especially those with a weakened immune system, are at higher risk. Also, any child under age 1 with a weakened immune system is also at high risk. Most of the time, these people have a weakened immune system from a serious health condition such as diabetes. Symptoms include signs of an infection (sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea, etc.) along with shivering/high fever, extreme pain, clammy skin, confusion, difficulty breathing and/or fast heart rate. Anyone with a combination of these symptoms should seek medical attention quickly.

At Wilson Medical Center, we recognize the importance of early diagnosis and treatment of sepsis. We have developed care guidelines, in association with nationally recognized best practices that help us identify patients at risk for sepsis so we can intervene quickly. Wilson Medical Center is working closely with experts from Duke University to further improve our care of patients with sepsis. It is our goal that all patients who arrive at Wilson Medical Center with any signs or symptoms of sepsis are quickly and appropriately treated in order to prevent serious complications. Most patients who have recovered from sepsis are able to return to their normal lives.

We want you to be informed so that you can feel empowered to ask questions in order to better understand your health care. If you have questions regarding sepsis, please speak with your physician or email me at Ronald.Stahl@wilmed.org.

Ronald Stahl, MD, is the chief medical officer at Wilson Medical Center.