Earlier this month, former United States President Bill Clinton was hospitalized for sepsis. It might have left you wondering what sepsis is.
It’s a relatively common condition that isn’t talked about too frequently, and Bill Clinton isn’t the only notable name to have an experience with it. It killed Muppet’s creator Jim Henson and pope John Paul II. It almost killed Whoopi Goldberg a few years ago, too.
But it’s not only for famous people. Roughly 1.7 million U.S. adults get it each year, and it claims the lives of roughly 270,000.
So, what is it? It’s not a specific condition, nor is it easily categorized. It’s essentially an extreme response to a bacterial or viral infection where the immune system overreacts and puts your organs in danger.
Most of the time, bacterial infections, like urinary tract infections, are the cause. But viral infections like the flu and other SARS-CoV-2 can cause it. So can fungal infections.
The infections lead to an extreme immune response that makes the body irritable and inflamed. Toxins then end up in the bloodstream and start to take a toll on organs.
Sepsis can be particularly dangerous for people with heart conditions. A common reaction is very low blood pressure caused by dilated blood vessels. The body then struggles to get oxygenated blood to vital organs.
People with other chronic conditions that challenge the immune system are also at higher risk. Type-2 diabetes, kidney disease, and obesity can all boost the risk for sepsis.
It can be hard to protect yourself from sepsis, and the best defence may be living a healthy lifestyle that supports optimal immune function. Lowering your chances of chronic conditions might not eliminate the risk, but it can likely offer a substantial risk reduction.
Do your best to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables (be sure to wash them), get active, and maintain a healthy weight. Fewer risk factors will allow your body to respond better to an infection.