Every two minutes, someone dies from sepsis in the United States – more than prostate cancer, breast cancer and AIDS combined.

Nearly 23,000 Coloradans were diagnosed with sepsis in 2017, and Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center is working to diagnose quickly and treat this critical health condition.

Sepsis happens when an infection you already have – in your skin, lungs, abdomen, urinary tract or elsewhere – triggers a toxic chain reaction throughout your body.

Sepsis is the body’s extreme response to an infection. It is life-threatening and without timely treatment can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, amputation and death.

Anyone can develop sepsis from an infection. It is most common, however, in people 65 or older or less than 1 year old, or those who have a weak immune system or a chronic medical condition.

Sepsis can occur at any time, from any type of an infection and can affect any part of the body. It can occur even after a minor infection that started in a paper cut or bug bite.

There is no single sign or symptom of sepsis, but rather a combination of symptoms including fever, shivering, extreme pain, clammy or sweaty skin or shortness of breath. A rapid heart rate, confusion or disorientation and low blood pressure may also indicate sepsis.

Most often, sepsis begins outside the hospital, but it is the job of hospitals and their providers to quickly diagnose this dangerous condition and treat the patient accordingly.

HRRMC is working diligently to address sepsis. We have standardized our sepsis screening tools in the Emergency Department and inpatient units.

We also follow the three- and six-hour sepsis bundle treatment guidelines, which are a standardized group of therapies built around best, evidence-based practices, which prove more effective when implemented together rather than individually. And we have standardized our sepsis treatment guidelines within the hospital.

HRRMC treats an average of five to 10 septic patients per month. We collect and report our sepsis data and statistics throughout our organization for continued improvement.

Heart of the Rockies is also participating in a national effort, called the Hospital Improvement Innovation Network (HIIN), which is seeking to reduce all-cause inpatient harm and readmissions. This effort is being led in Colorado by the Colorado Hospital Association and includes a focus on sepsis.

September is Sepsis Awareness Month, and HRRMC encourages the community to remember the signs of sepsis:

S = Shivering, fever or very cold.

E = Extreme pain or general discomfort.

P = Pale or discolored skin.

S = Sleepy, difficult to rouse, confused.

I = “I feel like I might die.”

S = Short of breath.

If you see a combination of these symptoms – especially if there is a recent history of a cut, surgery, some type of invasive procedure or infection – get medical care immediately.

Sepsis can’t always be prevented, but the risk drops when you take steps to reduce the risk of infection. Be sure to wash your hands on a regular basis and keep wounds clean. Stay current with your vaccinations to prevent infections.

It is important to know the signs and symptoms of sepsis and seek treatment early. Sepsis is a medical emergency. If you suspect sepsis, see your doctor right away, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

For more information, visit sepsis.org.

Lisa Barr is a registered nurse and the quality manager at Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center.

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