The Third Leading Killer of Americans

Jun 8, 2016

If you participated in the YFPHP FB page pop quiz on the 3 leading causes of death in the US and answered heart disease (#1), followed by cancer (#2), you’re correct. But the #3 leading cause of death is less talked-about and less familiar to many. Every year, SEPSIS kills at least 258,000 people. This makes sepsis the THIRD leading cause of death, taking more Americans’ lives than accidents, stroke, and diabetes; yet there are many people who’ve never heard of it.

Why should you care? Approximately 30% of patients with sepsis and HALF of all patients with septic shock will die. Because most sepsis patients are already septic when they arrive at the hospital, it’s critical to become familiar with what sepsis is and what it usually looks like so that prompt treatment can be given.

What is it? Although the official medical definition of sepsis is debated, here is the straight-forward version:

SEPSIS is a life-threatening inflammatory response to infection that overwhelms and overloads the body. As sepsis progresses, it can lead to multiple organ failure and death.

Sepsis exists on a spectrum, from mild or moderate sepsis, to severe sepsis, to septic shock.

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Who is at risk? Any bacterial, viral, or fungal infection can cause sepsis, so people at high risk for infections are at high risk for sepsis. The very young, very old, and very sick are at greatest risk of developing sepsis. People with weakened immune systems (e.g., people with HIV/AIDS and cancer, chemotherapy recipients, transplant recipients) and those who are at high risk of bloodstream infections (e.g., dialysis patients, patients with catheters) are also high risk for sepsis.

How is it treatedThe way to treat sepsis is to treat the underlying infection that led to sepsis in the first place. This means  that antibiotics are essential, and having antibiotics that actually work is necessary for saving patients’ lives. Fluid replacement is also a critical component of treating sepsis and septic shock.

What can you do?

Learn the signs of sepsis. The key to treatment is making sure antibiotics are started EARLY; therefore, it is essential to recognize sepsis early. Early treatment can be the difference between life and death.



If you suspect sepsis, seek medical help immediately. Sepsis is ALWAYS a medical emergency, and time is of the essence. Risk of death increases as EVERY HOUR without treatment passes. Since some hospitals still do not have protocols in place to diagnose or manage sepsis quickly, be sure to explicitly tell a medical professional you suspect sepsis once you reach the hospital.

Prevent common infections through vaccinations and hand-washing. Sepsis can result from an infection anywhere in the body, even common infections such as the flu and pneumonia or an infected wound. Avoiding infections in the first place is a good way to prevent sepsis. Wash your hands regularly and stay up-to-date on vaccinations for yourself and your children, such as the flu vaccine and pneumococcal vaccines for the young and elderly.

Spread the word. It is important that you and your loved ones recognize the symptoms of sepsis and understand the best ways to prevent it.

Thanks for joining! As always, feel free to leave comments/questions.



Sepsis Alliance:


Mayo Clinic: