What is sepsis, who is at risk and how can it be treated?

Last September, the MP was hospitalized with septic shock, which resulted in kidney and liver failure and blood clots that turned his limbs black.

Here is a Q&A on the key points you need to know about the condition.

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is a condition caused when your immune system overreacts to an infection in your body and begins attacking your organs and tissues. It can lead to septic shock, which happens when a severe case of sepsis causes your blood pressure to drop to dangerously low levels, which can result in organ failure.

One of the most common infections that can lead to sepsis are abdominal and chest infections.

Across Britain, sepsis affects more than 245,000 people every year, and there are 48,000 deaths from sepsis-related illnesses. Globally, sepsis and sepsis-related conditions cause an estimated 8 million deaths per year.

Of those who survive sepsis, approximately 40% develop potentially life-changing challenges to their physical or mental health, such as limb amputation.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of sepsis can be difficult to recognize and can lead to misdiagnosis because it often begins quickly. Symptoms include loss of breath, diarrhea, severe muscle pain, chills, loss of breath, high fever, fainting and vomiting.

In babies and young children, symptoms of sepsis include blue, gray, pale, or blotchy skin, a rash that doesn’t go away when you roll a glass over it, difficulty breathing, unusually high-pitched cries, and being sleepier than normal.

The symptoms of septic shock, which occurs when sepsis is left untreated, include inability to get up, extreme confusion and intense drowsiness.

Why can sepsis lead to limb amputation?

When sepsis occurs due to an overreaction of your body’s immune system to an infection, which can lead to blood clots, which then reduce the supply of oxygen to the body’s organs and tissues.

This causes gangrene, which means the tissue runs out of oxygen and begins to die. Amputation may become necessary to prevent more body tissue from dying and thus prevent death.

Why can sepsis be easily misdiagnosed?

The early symptoms of sepsis, including high fever, vomiting and fainting, are shared with several other similar health conditions and as a result can be overlooked by healthcare professionals.

Some other conditions with similar symptoms to sepsis include anemia, heart failure, and spinal cord injury.

Sepsis can also be particularly difficult to recognize in babies and young children, people with dementia, people with learning disabilities and people who have difficulty communicating.

Martha’s Rule, which gives families the right to seek a second opinion from different doctors at the same hospital, was introduced after 13-year-old Martha Mills died in 2021 after developing sepsis that was not diagnosed quickly enough.

Who is at risk for sepsis?

Although everyone is at risk of developing sepsis, some people are at greater risk than others. This includes babies under one year old and people over 75 years old, people with diabetes, a weakened immune system, a genetic condition or people who have recently undergone surgery.

Women who have just given birth, had a miscarriage or abortion are also at greater risk.

How can sepsis be prevented?

The risk of developing sepsis can be prevented by keeping open wounds clean, taking antibiotics properly, if prescribed, and washing hands frequently.

It is important not to ignore the symptoms of sepsis, even though it may seem like a different condition at first glance.

What is the treatment for sepsis?

When arriving at the hospital with suspected sepsis, a person should be given antibiotics within an hour of arrival. This is important to prevent sepsis from developing into septic shock.

If sepsis turns into septic shock, other treatment may be needed, such as ventilation and surgery to remove the areas of infection.

Upon recovery, it may still be possible to have the physical and emotional symptoms of sepsis. This is known as post-sepsis syndrome and can include fatigue, loss of appetite and becoming sick more often.