George H. W. Bush has sepsis – why is it so dangerous?

Former president George H.W. Bush was hospitalized April 21 with sepsis, a life-threatening condition caused by complications of the body fighting back against an infection. The former fighter pilot was released from an intensive care unit at a Houston hospital on April 25.

Between 1 in 8 and 1 in 4 patients with sepsis will die during hospitalization. Sepsis contributes to one-third to one-half of all in-hospital deaths.

Sepsis, sometimes inaccurately referred to as blood poisoning, is sparked by your body’s reaction to infection.

When you get an infection, your body fights back. When this process works the way it is supposed to, your body quickly takes care of the infection, and you get better.

However, the body’s response to infection sometimes results in collateral damage. This is known as sepsis. The collateral damage can impair kidney, brain, heart or other organ functions.

Sepsis can result from any type of infection. Most commonly, it starts as pneumonia, a urinary tract or intra-abdominal infection such as appendicitis. Most often it starts at home.

Once a person is diagnosed with sepsis, he or she will be treated with antibiotics, IV fluids and support for failing organs, such as dialysis or mechanical ventilation. This usually means a person needs to be hospitalized, often in an intensive care unit, as was the 41st president. Sometimes the source of the infection must be removed, as with appendicitis or an infected medical device.