Certain health conditions can increase the risk of sepsis, which may be prevented by properly managing and treating the condition.
Sepsis is a life-threatening condition. Sepsis occurs when your body responds to infection abnormally, increasing the risk of tissue damage and death. According to a 2019 study published in JAMA, sepsis affects an estimated 1.7 million adults in the United States every year and causes more than 250,000 deaths.
Anyone can get sepsis. However, certain people may be at higher risk, especially if they already have serious health or medical conditions.
Here’s how to determine whether you’re at a high risk for sepsis and how to contact Lompoc Valley Medical Center if you need treatment for sepsis or another medical condition that puts you at risk.
What Causes Sepsis?
Any infection can lead to sepsis, including viral, bacterial, and fungal infections. However, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that bacterial infections cause most cases of sepsis.
Under normal circumstances, your body releases certain substances into your bloodstream to fight infection when you get sick or suffer an injury. But if your immune system is weak or doesn’t function normally, those same substances can cause inflammation and blood clots. These problems can impair your blood flow and prevent nutrients and oxygen from reaching your organs. As a result, you may suffer organ damage or organ failure.
Infections and problems that commonly lead to sepsis include:
- Lung infections like pneumonia
- Kidney and bladder infections
- Infections of the digestive system
- Bloodstream infections
- Problems at catheter sites
- Wounds and burns
- Resistance to antibiotics
- Weakened immune system
Which Health Conditions Can Lead To Sepsis?
Certain health conditions can increase your risk for sepsis. However, you may reduce your risk if you properly manage and treat your condition.
Diabetes is caused by having chronically high blood sugar levels. According to a 2017 study published in Frontiers in Endocrinology, uncontrolled blood sugar levels can prevent your immune cells from working as they should. This can make it more difficult for your body to heal from wounds like cuts and blisters.
Slow-healing wounds or wounds that don’t heal at all increase your risk for infection. High blood sugar levels can also prevent your body from fighting off infection—the reason you may get sepsis.
If you have diabetes, work closely with your doctor to ensure your blood sugar levels are under control. Eating healthy foods and exercising regularly can also help normalize your blood sugar.
Kidney stones that stay in your body for long periods can increase your risk for kidney infection. You may develop kidney stones if you don’t drink enough water or eat high amounts of high-sodium foods.
Common symptoms of kidney stones include blood in the urine, pain in the groin, and severe abdominal pain. See your doctor right away if you think you may have kidney stones so they can get treated right away. Treating kidney stones can reduce your risk for a kidney infection and sepsis.
Chronic Liver Disease
The liver has many significant roles. It makes vital proteins, fights off infections, and helps your intestines absorb nutrients. All these factors help you stay healthy and free of illness. This is why an unhealthy liver and chronic liver diseases like cirrhosis can lead to sepsis.
Alcohol misuse, drug misuse, and hepatitis are top risk factors for chronic liver disease. You can reduce your risk for liver disease by drinking less alcohol and getting help for drug abuse. You can prevent hepatitis A and B by getting vaccinated for these diseases. You can prevent hepatitis C by having safe sex and not sharing needles.
Leukemia is a type of blood cancer. This disease prevents the body from effectively fighting off disease and infection. In leukemia, the body produces plenty of abnormal white blood cells that don’t function normally. Your white blood cells are responsible for fighting infection.
Leukemia is a significant risk factor for sepsis because it weakens the immune system. Chemotherapy is one of the most common treatments for leukemia. Unfortunately, chemotherapy drugs can also increase the risk of sepsis. Ask your doctor about other medications and therapies that won’t cause sepsis if you have leukemia.
Multiple myeloma is a cancer that grows in plasma cells, a type of white blood cell. Plasma cells create antibodies that can recognize and destroy bacteria that lead to infection.
The cancerous plasma cells can grow and multiply in multiple myeloma to outnumber your healthy blood cells. These plasma cells make abnormal proteins that lead to other complications like thinning bones and kidney failure.
Multiple myeloma can lead to sepsis due to how it affects white blood cells' health and function. According to a 2020 study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, sepsis is a significant risk factor for death among patients with multiple myeloma. This is because multiple myeloma weakens the immune system. If you have multiple myeloma, ask your doctor about treatments that won’t make you more susceptible to sepsis.
HIV and AIDS
HIV is a virus that attacks your immune system or the cells that help your body fight off infection and disease. If you don’t treat HIV, your immune system will become weaker. This could make it even more difficult for you to fight off infection and disease. This eventually leads to AIDS, which stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.
According to the CDC, people with AIDS typically only survive about three years without treatment. The Sepsis Alliance says that many people with untreated AIDS will develop critical illnesses like sepsis and die within 48 hours. It adds that sepsis is the most common cause of death from AIDS and comes on very quickly.
HIV is spread by sharing needles or having unsafe sex with an infected person. You can also get HIV by receiving a blood transfusion with infected blood. Symptoms of HIV can begin within two to four weeks of getting infected and include fever, sore throat, and diarrhea. Get an HIV test from your doctor if you think you may be infected. Early treatment can often prevent AIDS and sepsis.
Many types of cancer destroy tissues and organs to weaken your immune system, which increases the risk of sepsis. In some instances, your cancer may get treated with drugs like chemotherapy that weaken your immune system. Either way, having cancer puts you at significant risk for developing sepsis.
According to the Sepsis Alliance, people who have any cancer are ten times more likely to get sepsis than anyone else. It adds that more than one in five sepsis hospitalizations are cancer-related and that severe sepsis is linked to 5% of all cancer deaths.
Visit your doctor for regular cancer screenings, especially if you are obese, have a family history of cancer, or meet other cancer risk factors. Early detection and treatment are critical to reducing your risk for cancer-related complications, including sepsis.
Are There Other Risk Factors For Sepsis?
Other factors can put you at risk for sepsis. These risk factors include:
- Being an older adult or young child
- Having a weakened immune system
- Receiving treatment in an intensive care unit
- Receiving treatment with a breathing tube, intravenous catheter, or another invasive device
- Receiving treatment with antibiotics
- Receiving treatment with corticosteroids
- Nutritional deficiencies, especially in protein or iron
- Using chemotherapy or other cancer drugs
- Having an immunodeficiency disorder, like HIV or AIDS
How Can I Reduce My Risk For Sepsis?
Sepsis is caused by an infection. Therefore, the best way to reduce your risk for sepsis is to prevent or avoid infection. See your doctor regularly for checkups and screenings and make sure you properly manage chronic health conditions.
Sepsis usually happens while in the hospital or after you’ve been hospitalized. However, any infection can lead to sepsis, which is why it’s vital to treat infections as soon as possible.
Ways to reduce your risk for sepsis include:
- Practicing healthy lifestyle behaviors, such as exercising regularly and eating healthy foods.
- Taking daily vitamins and nutritional supplements.
- Getting plenty of quality sleep.
- Avoiding antibiotics and corticosteroids unless necessary for a medical condition.
- Washing your hands regularly and practicing good hygiene.
- Getting vaccinated for infections such as hepatitis, influenza, and COVID-19.
- Seeking and receiving treatment for infections as early on as possible.
- Managing your blood sugar level if you have diabetes.
- Receiving regular cancer screenings to detect and treat cancer early on.
- Practicing proper wound care.
- Working with your doctor to manage and treat health conditions that increase the risk of sepsis.
Treating Sepsis At Lompoc Valley Medical Center
Lompoc Valley Medical Center is home to a large team of medical professionals who can help you manage and treat any health condition that increases your risk for sepsis. Our services include hematology, nephrology, oncology, and wound care, among many others. Contact us today at (805) 737-3382 to learn more about our many healthcare services.