Sepsis symptoms everyone needs to know about 

Woman sick in hospital

People with certain medical conditions and who are deprived more likely to develop and die from sepsis, recent research shows.

The research – led by a team at the University of Manchester, who analysed NHS data from 224,000 cases of sepsis in England between January 2019 and June 2022 – also found that people who have a “history of extensive antibiotic exposure” or who have a learning disability are at a higher risk.

A life-threatening condition, sepsis occurs when the body overreacts to an infection and begins attacking its own tissues and organs as a result.

According to the Australian Sepsis Network, sepsis is responsible for, or contributes to, up to half of all deaths occurring in hospital. It’s estimated that there are 55,000 cases of sepsis resulting in least 8700 deaths in Australia each year, yet few people have heard of sepsis.

Sepsis already causes a significant but unappreciated burden of disease but as the population ages, this burden will increase substantially.

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women in hospital
(Alamy/PA)

However, sepsis does not always have to be fatal – but catching and treating it early is vital.

Here are some of the sepsis warning signs and symptoms everyone needs to know about.

Blotchy or cold arms and legs

According to Colin Graham, chief operating officer at Sepsis Research FEAT, during a sepsis crisis, the clotting mechanism in the body tends to work overtime. Due to oxygen and nutrients not being able to reach tissue throughout the body, cells can begin to die. The skin may begin to look mottled or blotchy and may appear blueish. Furthermore, areas of dead skin may turn black (limbs may need to be amputated if the sepsis progresses).

Rapid heartbeat

The heart rate may quicken, along with difficulty breathing, as the arteries starting to dilate or widen. This causes a drop in blood pressure, forcing the heart to work harder to push the blood through at a normal pressure.


Uncontrolled shivering

The temperature in your body can drop significantly if you are suffering from sepsis. This can cause severe shivering, which is an indication that your body is trying to fight the infection and warm itself up.

High/low temperature

As part of the body’s immune response, sepsis can cause someone to develop a high fever. But in some cases, they’ll develop a low body temperature (hypothermia) instead. “Hypothermia during sepsis is considered very dangerous,” said Mr Graham. “There’s more risk of fatality than when a patient develops a fever.”

Confusion

Sepsis can cause acute inflammation and swelling, making it difficult to breathe, which can lead to a drop in oxygen levels. “Low levels of oxygen in the blood can cause mental confusion and delirium,” said Mr Graham.


Passing little urine

As sepsis progresses around the body, your blood pressure may reduce drastically, which means not enough blood and oxygen is able to reach the organs. This can result in organ failure, and when kidneys start to fail, it can lead to a drop in urine output.

Seek urgent help

Mr Graham notes that on their own, these symptoms can be a sign for other health concerns. But if someone develops a combination of two or more of these warning signs, and especially if symptoms get progressively worse and somebody seems unwell, it’s important to seek urgent medical attention – call 000 or go to the nearest emergency department. For every hour treatment is delayed, the chance of survival reduces by over 7 per cent.

For further information, see the Australian Sepsis Network.

Did the figures about sepsis surprise you? Do you know these sepsis symptoms? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

Also read: Pain index shows older Aussies prefer to suffer in silence

Written by Ella Pickover

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