Home Mental Health & Well-Being Sepsis Survivors Face Lasting Challenges, Danish Study Reveals

Sepsis Survivors Face Lasting Challenges, Danish Study Reveals

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A recent Danish study has shed light on the profound impact of sepsis on survivors, revealing that the aftermath of this life-threatening condition extends far beyond physical health. A team from Odense University Hospital and the University of Southern Denmark conducted qualitative research on the experiences of sepsis survivors, highlighting the significant psychological and cognitive challenges they face. The findings were published in BMJ Open.

The body’s response to infection causes sepsis, a serious medical condition that frequently results in organ dysfunction and carries a high risk of death. Despite the increasing number of survivors, there is a dearth of comprehensive post-hospitalisation guidelines to address their needs. The study aimed to fill this gap by exploring the lived experiences of sepsis survivors.

Dr Camilla Schade Skov, a researcher from Odense University Hospital, said: “The study was conducted to gain insight into the lived experiences of sepsis survivors. Previous studies have primarily focused on sepsis survivors from the intensive care unit. However, in Denmark, most patients with sepsis are treated at the general wards, and knowledge of lived experiences from a broader group of patients with sepsis was needed.”

The researchers employed a phenomenological hermeneutical approach, conducting in-depth interviews with 16 sepsis survivors three months after their discharge from the hospital. The participants were selected from patients admitted to the emergency department of Odense University Hospital between September 2022 and January 2023.

The study identified three primary themes affecting the lives of sepsis survivors: new roles in life, cognitive impairment, and anxiety.

Many survivors reported significant changes in their roles within their families and social circles. Physical limitations and psychological impairments led to a redistribution of household tasks and a shift in family dynamics. One participant, a grandmother in her 60s, described her inability to engage in activities with her grandson as she did before. Another participant, a man in his 70s, bemoaned his withdrawal from social events like Rotary Club meetings because of his condition’s unreliability.

Reflecting on the key findings and implications, Dr Skov noted: “Our findings suggest that sepsis can have a huge impact on everyday life, even among those without the need for intensive care unit treatment. The implications varied among the survivors, with a few survivors experiencing minor declines, while the majority had substantial declines. Further, psychological and cognitive impairments after sepsis were not addressed after discharge, probably because there are no rehabilitation programmes addressing these impairments.”

Survivors frequently experienced cognitive declines, including memory loss, disorientation, and difficulty performing tasks they once found simple. This decline in cognitive function often led to a sense of frustration and helplessness. A male participant in his 40s described how his powerlessness made him feel less of a man. Others reported needing to sleep extensively after engaging in simple activities to cope with overwhelming fatigue.

Anxiety emerged as a major theme, with survivors expressing fears related to their health and mortality. The fear of dying and leaving their loved ones behind was a common concern. One male participant in his 40s recalled crying at the thought of his son’s future without him. Additionally, survivors reported anxiety about the recurrence of sepsis and other illnesses, with some indicating they were more fearful of sepsis than other severe conditions like cancer.

The study also highlighted the impact of sepsis on survivors’ social relationships. Many withdrew from social activities due to their inability to participate fully, resulting in a sense of loss and isolation. This withdrawal not only affected their social life but also their self-esteem and identity. For instance, a male participant in his 70s noted his struggle to reconcile his use of a walker with his self-image of vitality and independence.

The findings underscore the necessity for comprehensive post-hospital care that addresses not only the physical but also the psychological and cognitive needs of sepsis survivors. The study suggests that rehabilitation programmes should be multidisciplinary, incorporating psychological support and cognitive rehabilitation alongside physical therapy.

Looking ahead, Dr Skov emphasised the importance of future plans: “The results from this qualitative study have inspired us to investigate patterns in return for work among sepsis patients. The impact of sepsis on the ability to work needs further investigation, along with identification of factors associated with return to work. Our work has underlined the need for multidisciplinary rehabilitation programmes, which are currently being considered for implementation.”

Despite the challenges highlighted, some survivors reported positive changes in their relationships, noting increased support and closeness with family members. But the need for tailored support remains critical to helping survivors navigate the complex aftermath of sepsis.

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