Identifying Sepsis: The Human Body’s Abnormal and Deadly Response to an Infection

Identifying Sepsis: The Human Body’s Abnormal and Deadly Response to an Infection

By: Natalie Cheng

August 19th 2021

Many people may be talking about COVID right now, but there’s another problem that needs to be addressed alongside the pandemic. Sepsis is a topic that isn’t addressed enough. Sepsis is something that could turn deadly if left untreated and is the cause of 1 in 5 deaths worldwide according to the WHO. In the US, 270,000 people die from the preventable condition annually.

Many people are dying from COVID, but many of these cases are experiencing COVID-19 sepsis. A national sepsis expert has stated that “seriously ill COVID-19 patients are technically afflicted with sepsis”. According to Steven Simpson, MD, professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine and medical advisor for the Sepsis Alliance, “Sepsis is life-threatening organ dysfunction due to a dysregulated host response to an infection. In COVID-19 sepsis, the infection is the virus, and the life-threatening organ dysfunction is all the organs that can dysfunction, including lungs, brain, kidneys, heart, and liver.”

What is sepsis in simpler terms? Sepsis is the body’s abnormal response to an infection. The CDC describes sepsis as “the body’s extreme response to an infection. It is a life-threatening medical emergency. Sepsis happens when an infection you already have triggers a chain reaction throughout your body.” Timely treatment is crucial because sepsis can rapidly lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and even death.

Sepsis can be hard to detect quickly because the information needed to quickly identify it is often kept on disparate screen views in the electronic health record. This creates a difficult challenge for clinicians, and time is literally of the essence – studies show that for every hour delay in initiating treatment for sepsis, mortality increases by 10%.

What are the signs of sepsis?

According to a Sepsis Alliance survey, only 15% of adults could identify the four common signs and symptoms of sepsis. The four primary symptoms of sepsis are fever, infection, mental decline, and extreme illness.

According to, to be diagnosed with sepsis, you must have a probable or confirmed infection and all the following signs:

  • Change in mental status
  • Systolic blood pressure — the first number in a blood pressure reading — less than or equal to 100 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg)
  • Respiratory rate higher than or equal to 22 breaths a minute

Some additional signs or symptoms of sepsis include:

  • High heart rate or low blood pressure
  • Fever, shivering, or feeling very cold
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Extreme pain or discomfort
  • Clammy or sweaty skin

Many experienced nurses have stated that they can identify sepsis just by looking at a patient’s appearance. This ability oftentimes comes with years of experience necessary to develop that knowledge. In addition, many hospitals and healthcare facilities may have specific protocols to diagnose and manage sepsis. For nurses just starting out in their careers or nurses that have less experience, it’s more difficult to know for sure if someone has sepsis or will end up developing sepsis in the hospital after being admitted for a different cause. Without that assurance, the time to treatment starts ticking upward. This leaves the patient at risk of decompensating quickly.

Detect and Treat Sepsis Faster

When it comes to sepsis, acting fast is crucial. It’s a medical emergency that must be addressed.

Are you looking for a way to detect and treat sepsis faster? Reach out to us and we can show you how Sagitta, our sepsis workflow accelerator, can help detect sepsis faster, decrease the time to treatment, and create a positive return on investment for hospitals.

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