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Sepsis: risk factors, symptoms and treatment

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By Hope Robinson, MSN, RN, ASC-BC
Cheyenne Regional Medical Center

What is sepsis? 

Sepsis is a response by the body to an infection that could become life-threatening. Anyone at any age can get an infection, and almost any infection can lead to sepsis. Like strokes or heart attacks, sepsis is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention and treatment.

What increases the risk of developing sepsis? 

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There are several risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing sepsis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), those who may be at higher risk for sepsis include the following: 

  • Adults 65 and older 
  • Anyone with a weakened immune system 
  • People with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) 
  • Someone with a recent severe illness or hospitalization 
  • Sepsis survivors  
  • Children less than a year old

What are signs and symptoms of sepsis? 

  • Elevated heart rate 
  • Low blood pressure 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Confusion 
  • Fever or chills  
  • Pale or discolored skin 

How is sepsis treated? 

Sepsis is a medical emergency that requires close monitoring, treatment and, at times, life-saving measures. The best chance for recovery depends on quick diagnosis and treatment. Sepsis is commonly treated with antibiotics, intravenous fluids and medications to stabilize the blood pressure if it is too low. Additional treatment can include oxygen therapy, dialysis and surgery. (Treatment can vary depending on a variety of circumstances.)

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How can sepsis be prevented?

  • Practice good personal hygiene, including washing hands regularly.
  • Try not to touch your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Wash hands before touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Practice social distancing when in public.
  • Avoid contact with people who have cold symptoms such as a cough, runny nose or fever. 
  • Stay home when feeling ill.  
  • Stay up to date on vaccinations. Learn more about routine vaccine recommendations from your primary care provider or on the CDC website at cdc.gov.

What happens during recovery from sepsis? 

After treatment, someone recovering from sepsis may experience fatigue or generalized weakness, have trouble sleeping and concentrating, have a poor appetite and feel anxious and depressed.

It is important to listen to your body, be patient with yourself through recovery and be willing to ask for help. Talk to your primary healthcare provider about physiological and emotional changes you are experiencing.  

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More information about sepsis care is available from CRMC by calling (307) 996-4783

Additional resources are also available from the Sepsis Alliance at sepsis.org.

Bio

Hope Robinson is a registered nurse and manager at CRMC. She has a bachelor’s degree in Nursing Science and a master’s degree in Nursing Leadership and Education, both from Regis University. Hope helps manage several disease-specific programs, including those focused on stroke, sepsis and elective hip/knee surgery. Hope and her team strive to provide safe and excellent care through evidence-based practice and to support the community through education awareness.

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