Sepsis In Senior Citizens: What It Is, How To Treat It

Sepsis in senior citizens happens when the body battles an infection. It could be  be a urinary tract infection or even pneumonia. Your immune system releases chemicals into the bloodstream to fight the infection, and these chemicals can sometimes trigger additional inflammation in your body.


If left untreated, sepsis can lead to septic shock, a drastic drop in blood pressure, heart and respiratory failure, a stroke and death.


Sepsis can be triggered in seconds.


The numbers are alarming.  According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 1.7 million Americans get sepsis every year, and 270,000 will die from the illness. Thirty three percent of hospital deaths are due to sepsis.


In addition, many who do survive a sepsis attack are left with a decreased quality of life.  They suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, fatigue, organ dysfunction, amputations, sleep deprivation, and memory loss. Caregivers are necessary and re-hospitalizations are frequent.


Despite the seriousness of this illness, public awareness is low.

 A 2018 Sepsis Alliance Awareness Survey found that 35 percent of American don’t know what sepsis is.


sepsis in senior citizens

Sepsis In Senior Citizens: Age Matters

Senior citizens are most at risk for this illness. Indeed, seniors over age 65 make up 60 percent of sepsis cases.

In fact, sepsis is the most common reason aged adults are admitted to an intensive care unit. Aging weakens the immune system and thus increases the susceptibility to infections. Indeed, seniors may be suffering from two or more chronic illnesses at the same time and taking antibiotics. These medications further suppress the immune system.


Making the diagnosis in seniors is difficult. Fever is absent in 30-50 percent in seniors with infections. And, urinary tract infections, a marker for sepsis can also be tricky. The usual symptoms are burning, frequency, urgency or pain.

But in seniors, existence of a urinary tract infection can be disorientation. The first sign of a UTI may be a change in mental status. They may become confused or disoriented, so the infection could be present.


Sepsis In Senior Citizens: Symptoms

According to the CDC, less than 1 percent of Americans can correctly identify sepsis symptoms. See below for a list.  Remember that quick treatment is a must.

Temperature: Look for a fever of above 101 degrees Fahrenheit or a temperature below 96.8 degrees Fahrenheit, accompanied by shivering or feeling very cold.
Mental decline: Those with sepsis may seem confused and disorientated.

Infection: Symptoms include elevated blood sugar counts in those who have diabetes; wounds, sores or cuts that have redness, or are warm to touch or painful. If a wound smells bad, get it checked immediately. Also, get immediate medical help if infections treated with antibiotics get worse or fail to get better.


If you suspect sepsis, get immediate medical attention, it is an emergency. 


Diagnosis is done with blood and urine tests, a chest X-Ray, or CT scan.

Patients receive oxygen, antibiotics, and intravenous fluids.

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