Sepsis is one of the most common causes of death among hospital patients, but new research suggests that there is little that could be done to prevent most of those fatalities.
In a study published this month in the medical journal JAMA Network Open, researchers from Harvard indicate that most sepsis deaths are linked to other underlying conditions, and few of the cases at hospitals are actually preventable.
Researchers reviewed the medical records of 568 patients who were admitted to six U.S. hospitals from January 2014 to December 2015. After patients were admitted, they were either discharged to hospice and not readmitted later, or they died in the hospital.
Of the patients, 53 percent contracted sepsis. The study found that 35% of the deaths among the group were directly caused by sepsis, making it the most common cause of hospital deaths. Most of the rest were caused by severe chronic conditions suffered by the patients.
The common underlying causes of death in patients with sepsis included cancer, which accounted for 21 percent of cases, while 15 percent had chronic heart disease, 10 percent had hematologic cancer, 10 percent had dementia, and nine percent had chronic lung disease.
In most cases, these underlying conditions and illnesses were the cause of death and not the patient having sepsis.
Research indicate the next most immediate cause of death after sepsis was progressive cancer, in about 16% of patients, and heart failure in 7% of patients.
While the researchers did not that suboptimal care occurred in nearly 23% of cases, mainly due to delays in patients receiving antibiotics, they determined that only four percent of sepsis-associated deaths were considered definitely or moderately preventable. Another eight percent were considered possibly preventable.
“In this cohort from 6 US hospitals, sepsis was the most common immediate cause of death,” the researchers concluded. “However, most underlying causes of death were related to severe chronic comorbidities and most sepsis-associated deaths were unlikely to be preventable through better hospital-based care.”
Sepsis is an infection of the bloodstream which can cause symptoms such as decreased blood pressure, fever, and increased heart rate. It is caused by bacteria, virus, and fungal infections and can lead to very severe conditions that result in death.
Sepsis affects roughly 1.7 million adults in the U.S. each year, causing 250,000 deaths. It occurs in roughly 20-50 percent of hospitalizations that lead to death.