Early detection and immediate treatment is the key to improving chances of survival for those suffering from sepsis, a potentially life-threatening complication of an infection, say doctors at Baylor College of Medicine and Ben Taub General Hospital.

"Sepsis is most common and dangerous in the elderly and those who have weakened immune systems," said Dr. Angela Fisher, assistant professor of medicine - ­ emergency medicine at BCM. "If sepsis progresses to septic shock, blood pressure drops dramatically and the person may die. It could happen in a just a matter of days."

Sepsis blocks nutrients, oxygen

Sepsis occurs when chemicals released into the bloodstream to fight an infection trigger inflammation throughout the body, which creates microscopic blood clots that can block nutrients and oxygen from reaching organs, causing them to fail.

Although early identification of patients with the potential for developing severe sepsis or septic shock is challenging without standardized recommendations, BCM emergency medicine doctors use a process they developed at Ben Taub that is initiated each time a patient is believed to have sepsis.

Improving outcomes

"This results in early identification and evaluation, closer monitoring and timely decisions to initiate life- saving treatment," said Fisher, who is also medical director at Ben Taub. "Early recognition and treatment, complemented by a rigorous quality assurance program with tandem goals of continued performance improvement provides a better chance of outcomes for our sickest patients."

Continuous interdisciplinary team meetings focus on quality assurance and performance improvement.

"We recognize that early identification and treatment are essential," Fisher said. "For this type of infection, immediate management is crucial to patient care as minutes matter in the care of septic patients."