11 Silent Signs of Sepsis (Blood Poisoning) You Need to Know

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Sepsis symptom: sleepiness or mental confusion

Although Dr. Dellinger says this is more common in elderly patients, Orlaith Staunton noticed marked sleepiness in her son, Rory. Just like when you’re tired or when you have a cold, your body needs rest to try to fight off the infection. But Dr. Coopersmith notes that low blood pressure can also make you feel out of it. “When your blood pressure falls below a certain point, you don’t get enough blood flow to your brain, and you can be sleepy or confused,” he says. With sepsis, the sleepy/confused feeling will accompany other characteristic symptoms.

Sepsis symptom: decreased urination

Patients with sepsis start to pee less. This could happen because you eat and drink less when you don’t feel good, or if you’re throwing up or have diarrhea. But it could also be caused by something more serious: “leaky” blood vessels. “Think of blood vessels as being like a garden hose, and millions of small pinholes in a garden hose cause the fluid to leak out” into the body, Dr. Coopersmith says.

Sepsis symptom: nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea

Unfortunately, GI symptoms are what threw off Rory Staunton’s doctors—they thought he just had a stomach virus. Intestinal problems can result from an initial gut infection that leads to sepsis. Or, “as the body moves blood to vital organs, it moves blood away from less vital organs such as the intestines, which can cause some of these symptoms if blood flow is not adequate,” Dr. Coopersmith says. Orlaith Staunton, Rory’s mom, adds, “Some sepsis symptoms are similar to the flu or a virus—a doctor who is not looking for sepsis or is not paying close attention to his or her patient might make this mistake.” This is why New York state passed “Rory’s Regulations” in 2013, to mandate a sepsis protocol for hospitals, which is estimated to save up to 8,000 lives. Illinois followed suit in August 2016. “Hospitals that have implemented strong sepsis protocols have cut sepsis mortality rates by up to 75 percent,” Staunton says. Even so, you can’t assume that medical professionals are infallible or know everything. If you think you or someone in your care might have sepsis, ask the question directly: “Could it be sepsis?” And don’t forget to check out this list of other deadly medical conditions that should be addressed right away.

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