Why the elderly are more likely to get sepsis, the same condition that Patty Duke died of at 69

Hospitals

By pH health care professionals

Sepsis is a very serious medical condition. What happens is this: Your immune system releases chemicals into the bloodstream to fight an infection, which causes widespread inflammation, leading to blood clots and leaky blood vessels. You end up with impaired blood flow, which damages the body’s organs by depriving them of nutrients and oxygen.

Oscar-winning actress Patty Duke, star of “The Patty Duke Show” and the Broadway play and film “The Miracle Worker,” died of sepsis from a ruptured intestine.

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In a 2015 online survey of 2,000 participants, only 47 percent of Americans were aware of sepsis. Meanwhile, 86 percent knew about ebola and 76 percent knew about malaria — two diseases that are much rarer in the United States.

It is a major health concern that causes billions of dollars in hospital expenditure. Anyone can get sepsis, but it is more common among people who have weakened immune systems, such as the elderly who may have multiple chronic conditions.  

So how is sepsis diagnosed?

Earlier diagnosis criteria included the presence of two or more of the following:

  • Elevated or below normal body temperature

  • Heart rate over 90 beats per minute

  • Breathing rate more than 22 per minute

  • Abnormal white blood cell count

The above criteria of sepsis are problematic, however, and have recently been challenged and modified by various task forces. Those symptoms could describe just about any patient with an infection.

However, people with sepsis generally look sick, and usually require admission to the intensive care unit (ICU) or constant monitoring. They also often shows signs of some organ dysfunction and may have alterations in mental status, low blood pressure and other abnormal laboratory tests.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you also may experience the following symptoms:

  • Shivering, fever, or very cold

  • Extreme pain or discomfort

  • Clammy or sweaty skin

  • Confusion or disorientation

  • Shortness of breath

  • High heart rate

How is sepsis treated?

A septic patient needs to be treated early and vigorously with antibiotics and intravenous fluids (read about IVs here!), among other treatments, in order to prevent multiple organ failure. While some people recover completely, some people with sepsis develop long-term complications such as organ damage, especially if there was already an existing health issue.  

Are there ways to try to prevent sepsis?

The CDC recommends taking steps to prevent infections that could lead to sepsis. You can do this by:

  • Getting vaccinated against infections (Talk to your doctor about this!)

  • Cleaning scrapes and wounds

  • Practicing good hygiene such as washing your hands

  • Seeking help right away if you have a severe infection and you experience shivering, fever or being very cold, extreme pain or discomfort, clammy or sweaty skin, confusion or disorientation, shortness of breath, and a high heart rate.

Here are some ways you can strengthen your immune system.

Be proactive!

Be proactive and see your health care provider right away if you are not feeling well, especially if you are older or have other health issues.

If you have chronic health issues, an upcoming hospital stay, or risk factors for complications (such as sepsis), consider enlisting the assistance of a patient advocate who can help you navigate the complicated health care system, provide education about your specific health issues, and help you get the best possible care. Click here.

Enjoy Your Healthy Life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, health care attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. To learn more about the pH Health Care Team, click here.

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