Adults who were at least 50 years old submitted the most claims for sepsis treatment between 2013 to 2015, according to data collected by Aetna.
Over 80 percent of sepsis patients were 50 years of age or older for both men and women, according to the data.
John Moore, D.O., FAAFP, Aetna’s medical director for the United States’ Northeast Region, said he believes the increase in frequency of sepsis treatment is due to doctors diagnosing the condition promptly. He added the increase is also due to newer scoring methods that suggest sepsis or septic shock, based on the patient’s appearance, vital signs and test results.
Moore said there is a rapidly expanding senior population, who are at risk for sepsis because of their age, certain conditions that put them at risk or medications that suppress the immune system.
Sepsis: a life-threatening condition
Infections lead to sepsis, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If untreated, the condition can lead to other complications, such as tissue damage, organ failure and death.
Sepsis occurs more often in people that are 65 years of age or older, or children younger than 1 year old. People with weakened immune systems or with chronic conditions are also more susceptible to sepsis. According to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), sepsis affects more than 1 million people in the U.S. each year.
Sepsis is the cause of increased readmissions in hospitals and is costlier to treat than heart attacks, heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pneumonia, according to a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Common symptoms of sepsis include shivering, fever, extreme pain or discomfort, clammy or sweaty skin, confusion or disorientation, shortness of breath and a high heart rate.
The symptoms of sepsis can make it difficult to diagnose because they’re like other conditions. Moore, however, said that newer methods to diagnose sepsis early during the illness have been adopted. Signs of sepsis or septic shock that doctors are looking for when initially assessing a patient include a fever, an abnormally low temperature, an elevated heart rate, an elevated breathing rate, acute confusion, and dizziness.
Additional testing can also detect further signs of sepsis or septic shock. These include looking for bacteria in the blood, an elevated white cell count, a low platelet count, excess waste products in the blood, abnormal liver or kidney function, a low oxygen level and electrolyte imbalance.
“Doctors are diagnosing sepsis more rapidly than in the past,” he said. “The diagnosis for sepsis has changed and it’s easier to make a fast diagnosis based on the presentation of a patient.”
What you can do
After diagnosing a patient with sepsis, a physician will prescribe antibiotics for treatment, Moore said. Moore emphasized the importance of going to a doctor if you suspect something is wrong.
“If you don’t use antibiotics early on and/or don’t use the right kind for the presenting condition, the patient’s health is at risk of declining,” he said. Between 28 to 50 percent of the people diagnosed with sepsis die, according to the NIGMS.
The agency also recommends preventing infections by cleaning scrapes and wounds and practicing good hygiene.