Sepsis 'as urgent as a heart attack', says NICE guidelines

New NICE guideline urges nurses and other healthcare staff to be vigilant of early symptoms
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Nurses and other healthcare professionals must treat signs of sepsis with the same urgency as someone displaying symptoms of a possible heart attack, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) said.

In the first national evidence-based guidance of its kind, NICE says health professionals need to think about the possibility of sepsis in all patients who may have an infection.

According to the UK Sepsis Trust, there are around 150,000 cases of sepsis in the UK each year, with 44,000 deaths.

Sepsis occurs when the immune system becomes overactive during an infection, causing damage to the body itself.

A report by the National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome and Death published last year revealed delays in identifying sepsis in over a third (36%) of cases.

Professor Saul Faust chaired the group which developed the Sepsis: Recognition, Signs and Early Management guideline.

‘We want clinicians to start asking "could this be sepsis?" much earlier on so they can rule it out or get people the treatment they need,’ he said.

‘The thinking should be similar to considering that chest pain could be heart related. Just like most people with chest pain are not having a heart attack, the majority of people with an infection will not have sepsis. But if it isn’t considered then the diagnosis can be missed.’

The guidelines include recommendations and a toolkit to help health professionals working in any NHS setting recognise sepsis in children and adults as soon as possible.

The guideline directs healthcare professionals to:

  • Think 'could this be sepsis?' if a person presents with signs or symptoms that indicate possible infection.
  • Take into account that people with sepsis may have non-specific, non-localised presentations, for example feeling very unwell, and may not have a high temperature.
  • Be aware that early symptoms of sepsis may include fast breathing or a fast heartbeat, high or low temperature, chills and shivering, and people may or may not have a fever.
  • Be aware severe symptoms can develop soon after, when blood pressure becomes very low, leading to dizziness, disorientation, slurred speech, mottled skin, nausea and vomiting. Without quick treatment, sepsis can lead to organ failure and death.