Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that arises when the body's response to an infection causes it to attack its own tissues and organs. In sepsis, patient’s immune system goes into overdrive setting off a series of reactions including widespread inflammation. This can cause a significant decrease in blood pressure reducing the blood supply to vital organs and starving them of oxygen. Sepsis can lead to multiple organ failure and death especially if not recognised early and treated quickly.
In the UK, more than 100,000 people a year are admitted to hospital with sepsis, and around 31,000 die every year as a result of the condition. Of these, over 70 per cent of cases arise in the community. For those who survive sepsis, many patients suffer long term physical and mental problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, cognitive problems, chronic pain and organ dysfunction.
Nurses and health care support workers who see their patients on a regular basis, and are usually the first healthcare worker to see them, are well placed to recognise the signs of sepsis early and raise the alarm to enable prompt identification and treatment. In hospital settings early sepsis recognition by ward nurses has been shown to improve survival for patients in hospital with sepsis (Torsvik et al, 2016).
If a person you care for looks or feels unwell, doing an early warning score such as the National Early Warning Score (NEWS) can help you to recognise sepsis, raise the alarm quickly to a senior colleague or health care professional and prioritise care so they can be treated within the hour.
This RCN resource contains guidance on how to assess adults for sepsis and what to do if you think a patient could have sepsis.
If a person presents with signs or symptoms that indicate possible infection, think 'could this be sepsis?' and act fast to raise the alarm to the most senior health care professional immediately, whatever setting you work in.
Your workplace will have local formal policies and protocols for the early identification and management of patients with sepsis, which you should familiarise yourself with regularly.