Sepsis: What you need to know about the condition

It kills three times more people than breast cancer a year – but what is sepsis, and are you at risk?

Not heard of sepsis? You’re not alone.

According to a poll by the UK Sepsis Trust, 40% of the public said they’d heard the word – but of those, only 40% knew it was a medical condition.

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It’s one we should all be aware of, however. According to the NHS, it’s estimated that more than 100,000 people are admitted to hospital with sepsis every year, and around 1,000 young people will die as a result of the condition.

And with the news that the NHS are aiming to raise awareness of sepsis by informing new parents of the signs and symptoms.

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What is sepsis?

The NHS identifies sepsis as a common and potentially life-threatening condition triggered by an infection.

In sepsis, the body’s immune system goes into overdrive, setting off a series of reactions including widespread inflammation, swelling and blood clotting. This can lead to a significant decrease in blood pressure, which means the blood supply to vital organs such as the brain, heart and kidneys is reduced.

It is often referred to as blood poisoning or septicaemia, although the NHS argues that both terms are not entirely accurate. Sepsis is not limited to the blood and can affect the whole body.


Signs of sepsis

Symptoms include difficulty breathing, rapid heart rate, low blood pressure, hypothermia, sore throats and flu-like symptoms.

Some sufferers also noted a change in behaviour, such as confusion, drowsiness or slurring words, which can make the patient appear drunk.

[Read more: Dad has limbs amputated after common cold leads to life-threatening sepsis]

Who is at risk of sepsis?

Anyone can develop sepsis after an injury or minor infection, says the NHS, although some people are more vulnerable. Those most at risk include those:

- With a medical condition or receiving medical treatment that weakens their immune system
- Who are already in hospital with a serious illness
- Who are very young or very old
- Who have just had surgery or who have wounds or injuries as a result of an accident

How is sepsis treated?

If detected early enough, it can be possible to treat the infection at home with antibiotics. Most people who have sepsis detected at this stage make a full recovery.

Some people with severe sepsis and most with septic shock require admission to an intensive care unit, were the body’s organs can be supported while the infection is treated.

To find out more about sepsis, visit the NHS website or UK Sepsis Trust – or if you are concerned, visit your local GP.

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