Dr Clare Bailey: Sepsis – acting fast saves lives

Let me tell you Jane’s story. A few years ago, while her family were in France, the 45-year-old suddenly became unwell. As she explains, ‘I felt nauseous, hot and exhausted and had diarrhoea.’ She tried to soldier on but her symptoms rapidly worsened. Unable to keep even water down and with her temperature soaring, she stayed in bed, taking ibuprofen and sipping Dioralyte. ‘I don’t remember the rest of the day until my mother-in-law arrived,’ she says. ‘My husband had asked her to check on me.’

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By this time, Jane’s breathing was shallow and laboured, and her sickness, diarrhoea and high temperature continued, so her mother-in-law called 999.

In hospital, she was diagnosed with the life-threatening condition sepsis, which used to be known as blood poisoning. It happens when the immune system goes into overdrive in response to an infection and starts to damage its own tissues and organs. Jane’s blood cultures revealed that she had group A streptococcus – a bacterium that can cause many different infections, including sepsis. Her organs were shutting down and her blood circulation was failing, so she was moved to a high-dependency unit.

Jane drifted in and out of consciousness, hallucinating, her temperature continuing to spike – despite antibiotics. Doctors couldn’t tell what had caused sepsis – Jane hadn’t had any other symptoms of illness at the time. Conditions that commonly trigger sepsis include urinary tract infections, pneumonia, abdominal infections and meningitis, as well as skin, joint or wound infections.

Jane spent four weeks on the ward before her kidney function recovered. She is lucky that she bears no physical scars – according to The UK Sepsis Trust, 250,000 people develop the illness each year and more than a third are left with life-changing injuries, including loss of fingers, toes and limbs, as well as other organs being affected, such as the brain. Sepsis claims more lives in the UK than With every hour it is left untreated, the risk of death increasesbowel, breast and prostate cancer combined, with as many as 52,000 deaths each year – approximately someone every ten minutes.

If you suspect sepsis, you must act fast – prompt diagnosis makes a huge difference. With every hour it’s left untreated, the risk of death increases. Anyone can get sepsis, but some are more at risk, including the elderly, diabetics, those with a weakened immune system, or who have recently had surgery, given birth, had a miscarriage or an abortion.

The UK Sepsis Trust advises to seek medical help urgently if you develop any of the following…

Slurred speech or confusion.

Extreme shivering or muscle pain.

Passing no urine (in a day).

Severe breathlessness.

It feels like you’re going to die.

Skin mottled or discoloured

The nightcap that really does you good

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I sometimes take Bimuno, a fibre supplement that’s stirred into a small glass of milk, an hour or two before bed. This is partly because I enjoy the slightly fruity taste, but it’s also because it has been shown to increase levels of the good bacteria in your gut.

As a prebiotic, it acts like a fertiliser by feeding the beneficial microbes well, which, in turn, will look after you by reducing inflammation, improving your immune system and your mood.

I try to increase the fibre in my diet, particularly through eating more beans, lentils and whole grains, but as most of us don’t get anywhere near the recommended 30g of fibre, a little booster like this really helps.

It costs £11.99 for 30 sachets, bimuno.com