What is sepsis that caused President Bill Clinton admission to hospital, and can it affect the heart? I got asked this question a few times in the past couple of weeks by my patients, so I decided to write about it. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), sepsis is the “body’s extreme response to an infection”. In other words, it is a common process by which infections can lead to death. Most cases are attributed to bacterial infection, but viruses such as the flu and COVID-19 viruses and fungal infections, can lead to it. Sepsis makes the body over-react and makes it inflamed by releasing toxins in your bloodstream and poison all organs of your body, including the heart. The heart side effects are sometimes detected years after the infection has cleared.
From the cardiovascular standpoint, sepsis can damage the lining of the blood vessels making them susceptible to blood clots. People hospitalized with sepsis are twice as likely in the future to have or die from coronary heart disease such as a heart attack, compared to people who did not have a history of sepsis. Ten to forty percent of patients with sepsis develop Atrial Fibrillation, which is a type of arrhythmia leading to irregular heart beating.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 1.7 million adults in the United States develop sepsis every year, of whom about 270,000 die as a result. President Clinton, who suffers from coronary artery disease and has Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PCI) and Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery (CABG), spent several days in a California hospital from sepsis that developed as a result of urinary tract infection. He is not the only famous person that was affected by sepsis. Sepsis caused the death of Pope John II, Muppet creator Jim Henson and actress Tanya Roberts. Actress Whoopi Goldberg stated that it nearly killed her in 2019.
In patients with Heart Failure, sepsis can be especially dangerous, as the infection puts so much strain on the heart, which already has reduced pumping function. Sepsis accounts for a quarter of death in patients with heart failure. It sometimes has long lasting effects, including impaired brain function. Symptoms of sepsis include high heart rate, reduced blood pressure, fever, confusion and shortness of breath. People over the age of 65, people with chronic health conditions like diabetes and chronic kidney disease, and people with weakened immune systems are at a higher risk of sepsis.
If you have the symptoms of sepsis mentioned above, please report to your doctor immediately. Thousands of lives could be saved every year if sepsis is detected and treated early.