The National Institute for Health Care Excellence (NICE) has released new guidelines instructing medical professionals to treat patients experiencing the symptoms of sepsis faster and more efficiently. These changes have been put into place following a 2015 inquiry which found that 40% of patients attending A&E with sepsis symptoms were not attended by a doctor quickly enough. This in-depth investigation also came to the conclusion that in one third of cases, there was an avoidable delay in patients being treated with intravenous antibiotics.
Now NHS staff are being urged to be more aware and alert to the signs and symptoms of this potentially fatal condition and to treat patients in A&E for sepsis within one hour. This new guidance has been issued to all healthcare practitioners, from GPs to paramedics. In cases where it will take longer than one hour for patients to reach the hospital, ambulance staff are able to give out the life-saving antibiotics and fluids.
This new direction could save many lives now it has been implemented, but are you confident you could spot the signs of sepsis?
What is sepsis?
Sepsis is a serious condition which comes about as the body reacts to infection, injuring its own tissues and organs. This is the primary cause of death by infection in the world- every year it affects 120, 000 people and causes 44,000 deaths in the UK alone.
All cases of sepsis – which is also commonly known as blood poisoning- are caused by an infection. Most often, it is a common infection such as pneumonia, urinary infection, cellulitis or appendicitis.
There are three stages of sepsis, each one with a different level of severity, they are; sepsis, severe sepsis and septic shock. The symptoms of sepsis include:
- Temperature above 38ºC or below 35ºC
- Heart rate of 90 beats per minute or more
- Breathing at 20 breaths per minute or more
- Probable or confirmed infection
Severe sepsis occurs when an infection has become serious enough to cause organ failure. A doctor will diagnose severe sepsis if one or more of the following symptoms occur in a patient with sepsis:
- Patches of discoloured skin
- Decreased urine output
- Changes in mental ability
- Trouble breathing
- Disrupted heart function
- Low body temperature
- Extreme lethargy and weakness
When a patient with severe sepsis experiences a sudden drop in blood pressure, this means that septic shock has kicked in. It is essential to know what to look out for, as the sooner someone is taken to A&E for sepsis and given treatment, the higher their chances of survival and recovery will be.
Who is most at risk?
It is important to know that anyone who has suffered an injury or infection can develop sepsis. However, some people are more vulnerable to contracting the condition and more at danger from the symptoms.
Those most at risk include people with a pre-existing medical condition which weakens the immune system, patients in hospital from a serious illness, young children, the elderly and those who have just recently had surgery.
What to do if you suspect Sepsis
If you are concerned that your child under the age of five or an elderly relative is showing any of the signs of sepsis, it should be treated as a medical emergency and you should dial 999 or take them to A&E immediately. The same steps should be taken for anyone displaying any of the severe sepsis and septic shock symptoms listed above.
Despite the seriousness of this illness, you may not always need to rush to A&E for sepsis. If you or someone in your care does not fall into the highly vulnerable categories but shows any of the signs of early sepsis and has recently had an injury or infection, you must dial 111 and seek urgent medical advice.
In this case, if sepsis is suspected, you will be referred to hospital to receive a fast diagnosis and treatment. After treatment you will be carefully monitored in Critical Care until hospital staff are satisfied that the treatment has been successful.