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What You Need to Know About Preventing and Treating Septic Shock

Crystal Jo
By Crystal JoMarch 22, 2019

Septic shock sounds like a scary condition because it is. There are reported to be over 270,000 deaths each year in North America due to sepsis.

If you are a caregiver for a parent or senior loved one who is concerned about this diagnosis, read the following tips on how to prevent and treat septic shock.

Septic Shock in the Elderly

It was recently reported in the Critical Care Medicine Journalthat people over the age of 65 make up 65% of the cases of sepsis. If you are over the age of 65, have a chronic health condition and a weakened immune system, then sepsis is bad news.

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Sepsis is an infection that causes the body to overreact. Instead of having an appropriate response to the invading infection, the body responds too drastically and causes more damage, which leads to septic shock.

Sepsis can happen to anyone but is most dangerous in the elderly, those who are sick and those who are young.

Following sepsis, is a condition called septic shock, which causes a drastic drop in blood pressure and can quickly lead to death.

The Symptoms of Septic Shock

Any infection can lead to sepsis, but not every infection will cause the condition.

If your parent has a chronic health condition, has been in the hospital or is ill, be mindful of the following symptoms which can indicate septic shock, according to the Sepsis Alliance:

  • A higher or lower body temperature
    • This can mean a fever higher than 101.3 degrees or a body temperature lower than 95 degrees
  • A racing heart rate, beating faster than 90 beats per minute
  • Confusion and difficulty answering questions
  • Fast and shallow breathing, taking more than 20 breaths per minute
  • Shaking or trembling

Your senior loved one may look like they have just run a marathon even though they are lying in bed. You might see clammy, sweaty skin and a grey or red color to the face, a pounding heart, shaky hands and quick breaths.

These symptoms are all signs that your loved one needs immediate help.

The Ways That Septic Shock Can Affect the Elderly

Sepsis has been described by Dr. Henry Wang in Today’s Geriatric Medicine as a “ninja disease,” that starts with a small infection but builds to be one of the most common causes of death in intensive care units.

It can be easy for a diagnosis of sepsis to be missed with symptoms such as confusion and weakness not taken seriously.

These symptoms are also more severe when a person’s body is weakened by a chronic disease. If your parent or senior loved one has had cancer, diabetes, a heart attack or stroke, they are less able to fight off the stress of infection.

This can increase the damage caused by sepsis.

Even when a loved one is able to survive severe sepsis, they are likely to see a loss of mental function as a result. Sepsis survivors will often need to move into an assisted living community for ongoing care.

Ways to Prevent and Treat Septic Shock

Sepsis is bad.

The best way to prevent septic shock is to prevent infections from happening in the body and if an infection does occur, get it treated as quickly as possible.

How to Prevent Septic Shock

Septic shock can best be prevented by following these recommendations:

1. Don’t let your guard down.

Take all infections seriously. Sepsis will often develop from bed sores, respiratory illnesses and urinary tract infections (UTIs).

2. Prevent infections through vaccination.

Have your loved one vaccinated for both the flu and pneumonia.

3. Regularly wash hands.

Making thorough handwashing a regular part of your loved one’s day is proven to limit the number of bacteria that enter the body.

4. Take care of any open wounds.

Even a hangnail or small paper cut can leave an opening for bacteria to enter the body. Wash any cuts with soap and water to remove bacteria.

How to Treat Septic Shock

A quick diagnosis of sepsis can result in better outcomes. If you suspect a parent or senior loved one may have sepsis, it is recommended to be assessed by a healthcare professional right away.

Professional treatment will usually involve fluids given through a line into your bloodstream as well as antibiotics. Often a person may be admitted to the intensive care unit and treated for breathing difficulties, changes in blood sugar, dehydration and low blood pressure.

Your best defense against septic shock, however, is to prevent infections. If you do notice signs of infection in a loved one, have the infection treated right away.

Are you a caregiver who has helped prevent or treat septic shock in a senior loved one? What would you say is the most common missed symptom? We would love to hear your stories and thoughts in the comments below.

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Crystal Jo
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Crystal Jo
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