Many patients still not back at work two years after experiencing sepsis, according to a study published in the scientific journal Critical Care.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that blood poisoning — or sepsis — is responsible for one in five deaths in the world. Around 11 million people die from sepsis each year, of which nearly 3 million are children. “Sepsis is a severe immunological overreaction to an infection. It causes the body’s organs to fail,” said Nina Vibeche Skei, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and a senior anaesthetist at Levanger Hospital. “Many people believe that sepsis only affects the elderly, but a third of those who survive are between the ages of 18 and 60, and this has many consequences.”
Sepsis patients often have health problems and reduced quality of life for years. Many develop chronic conditions due to organ failure and intensive care. “Even everyday activities can become a challenge,” said Skei. As a consequence, many people do not return to work, but doctors don’t know exactly how many.
To answer this question, “we investigated the percentage of sepsis patients who returned to work in Norway,” said Lise Tuset Gustad, from the Faculty of Nursing and Health Sciences at Nord University and Levanger Hospital.
The team used data from the Norwegian Patient Registry and the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration’s information on absence due to illness, including 36,000 sepsis patients aged 18 to 60. The aim was to look at whether patients had returned to work six months, one year and two years after they had been discharged from hospital.
The results showed that after six months, less than 59% of the patients had returned to work. After one year, 67% were back at work, but this value dropped to 63% after two years. Almost four out of ten of those who had had sepsis were still not back at work two years after contracting the illness.
The authors found that there were several factors affecting who is able to return to work after sepsis. “Those who fared best were young people with few additional chronic diagnoses and less extensive organ failure,” said Skei. In contrast, 50- to 60-year-olds, patients with existing chronic conditions, or those who needed intensive care were much less likely to return to work. These patients were likely to have more severe sepsis. “The main finding of this study is that sepsis greatly reduces the chances of returning to work,” said Skei.
Sadly, “developments over the past decade show no improvement. In fact, the percentage of people who were in work two years after discharge from a hospital ward fell from 70 percent in 2016 to 57 percent in 2019. The reasons for this should be investigated further. We can then implement targeted measures to improve the consequences of sepsis,” concluded Gustad.
Skei, N.V., Moe, K., Nilsen, T.I.L. et al. Return to work after hospitalization for sepsis: a nationwide, registry-based cohort study. Crit Care 27, 443 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13054-023-04737-7