September is Sepsis Awareness Month

What is Sepsis?

What is Sepsis

Many people do not know what sepsis, commonly called blood poisoning, is and for this reason came about Sepsis Awareness Month that falls every year in the month of September. The goal is to teach people about sepsis, how to recognize the signs and how important it is to phone 911 for help. Sepsis is an extremely aggressive infection that can come on suddenly after surgery or even after a small wound and makes it way rapidly throughout the body. If not treated with antibiotics in time, sepsis can damage tissue, lead to amputations, organ failure and death. Sepsis is the most common cause of death in American hospitals and is the 10th common cause of death in the United States. According to the CDC, 1.7 million Americans contract sepsis every year and about 270,000 die each year from sepsis.

Post-sepsis Syndrome (PSS)

About 50% of sepsis survivors develop post-sepsis syndrome (PSS), which lasts about 6-18 months or longer and leaves then with long-term psychological and/or physical problems such as:

  • Anxiety and fear of getting sepsis again
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Decreased mental and cognitive functioning
  • Insomnia and nightmares
  • Panic attacks
  • Hallucinations
  • Flashbacks
  • Hair loss
  • Dry flaky skin
  • Loss of self-confidence
  • Susceptibility to bacterial and viral respiratory and lung infections
  • Kidney or liver damage
  • Recurring infections
  • Changes in taste or appetite
  • Vision problems
  • Swelling from fluids in the tissues (edema)
  • Feeling cold
  • Heavy sweating
  • Changes of feelings and sensations in the legs
  • Mood swings
  • Concentration problems
  • Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Risks for PSS

  • Admission to an intensive care unit (ICU)
  • Long stays in the hospital
  • Severe sepsis in the elderly

Symptoms of PSS in Seniors

Results of a study in published 2010 in JAMA showed that PSS was found to be worse in 60% of seniors who had been hospitalized for severe sepsis than those hospitalized for other conditions. These PSS sepsis survivors were left with new long-term physical disability and cognitive impairment such as:

  • Inability to walk even though they could walk before getting sepsis
  • Inability to carry out day-to-day activities like bathing, going to the toilet or preparing food
  • Memory problems
  • Inability to do complicated tasks

Treatment for PSS

Most people get better with time but others may need:

  • Psychological counseling
  • Neuropsychiatric evaluations
  • Physical therapy
  • Neurorehabilitation
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy

Post-ICU Syndrome (PICS)

Post-ICU syndrome (PICS) affects patients who spent time in an intensive care unit (ICU), especially if they had been sedated or put on a ventilator. Sometimes they experience ICU delirium and the longer they remain in an ICU the greater is their chance to develop PICS or delirium. In fact a study showed that they sometimes had cognitive problems that continued a year after they were discharged from the ICU.

PICS unlike PSS results only in mental and cognitive problems, whereas PSS also includes physical problems.

Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation

Elderly sepsis survivors with PSS are often admitted to short or long-term skilled nursing and rehabilitation facilities such as the Van Duyn Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Syracuse, New York. Van Duyn has consultant doctors in the fields of surgery, neurology, urology, dermatology, podiatry, ophthalmology, ENT and dentistry. Besides their skilled rehab team that includes occupational, physical, respiratory and speech therapists, Van Duyn also offers wonderful recreational activities and all kinds of amenities to make you or your loved one feel at home. See our post from July 18, 2018 to learn more about recreation therapy at Van Duyn.


Everyone should know how to recognize early signs of sepsis. Many seniors are left with post sepsis syndrome (PSS) which can last for 6 to 18 months or longer. It usually clears up over time, but some sepsis survivors may need professional therapeutic treatments.


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