Doctor’s Diary January 26, 2018: Sepsis

(Snippets from the frontline)


In hospitalized patients, experienced doctors and nurses instinctively recognize imminent death, and that awareness makes them act immediately to save a life.

This instinct is not innate in all medical professionals, so when a patient seems really sick, “sepsis criteria” alerts personnel of life threatening illness.

Sepsis (known in the past as “blood poisoning”) is when infection has spread into the circulation and effects other main organs.  For example, you have a urinary tract infection or pneumonia, but the bacteria has now spread affecting your brain or heart.

The criteria for sepsis is mostly based on vital signs and lab tests.  Blood pressure, pulse, temperature, breathing rate, white blood cell count, and lactic acid levels are obtained.  Abnormalities of these findings can establish the illness has progressed to a potentially lethal situation.

Treatment is aggressive with IV fluids, antibiotics, oxygen, and admission into an Intensive Care Unit.  Mortality is high, so speed in recognition is critical.

Being reliant on experience and instincts of medical professionals is still important in making diagnosis.  But using “sepsis criteria” has brought all caring personnel to the same level allowing more patients to survive.

Gene Uzawa Dorio, M.D.

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