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31 May 2019

Risk of death for sepsis survivors lasts for up to five years

Patients who survive sepsis are at higher risk of death for up to five years, according to analysis of national data by King’s researchers.


The research, published in JAMA Network Open today, found that 15% of sepsis survivors died within a year of leaving hospital, with a further 6% to 8% dying every year over the next five years.

Sepsis is a serious complication of infection. It occurs when the body’s immune system goes into overdrive in response to an infection. Without quick treatment, it can lead to multiple organ failure and death. There are around 250,000 cases of sepsis a year in the UK, according to the UK Sepsis Trust.

Thanks to advances in the care modern hospitals provide, more and more patients are surviving sepsis. Dr Manu Shankar-Hari, Reader and Consultant in Intensive Care Medicine from the Peter Gorer Department of Immunobiology and a critical care physician at Guy’s and St Thomas’ and NIHR Clinician Scientist, led this research. His previous work has led to advances that could help diagnose sepsis early, and he was recently awarded an international Fellowship to expand his research into sepsis.

The team analysed data from 94,748 sepsis survivors, who recovered following their admissions with sepsis to 200 Intensive Care Units in England. The researchers wanted to understand the long-term risk of death in sepsis survivors in England and to identify risk factors to inform clinicians how best to monitor sepsis survivors after they leave the hospital.

This is the first report of long-term risk of death in sepsis survivors using national data from England. We now know the magnitude of this long-term risk of death in sepsis survivors

Dr Manu Shankar-Hari

“Being able to identify patients at the highest risk is key for us as clinicians, as it helps to plan ongoing care. Given what we now know, we will be trying to find out what the best interventions are to prevent these deaths, how to identify those sepsis survivors who are at greatest risk and more likely to benefit the most from such interventions. More importantly, this new research informs the health policy debate around how to plan follow-up care of sepsis survivors and critical illness survivors in general.” 

Many of the risk factors are known when a sepsis survivor leaves the hospital. For example, factors such as advanced age, being male, having other conditions, longer stays in hospital and severity of sepsis at admission increased the chance of dying.

These results highlight where future research should be directed to help improve long-term outcomes for sepsis survivors.

The research was funded by Dr Shankar-Hari’s NIHR Clinician Scientist Award. It was performed in collaboration with researchers at the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre.