Severe sepsis, a body's dangerous defensive response against an infection, not only diminishes the quality of life for patients - it puts their spouses at a greater risk of depression, a joint University of Michigan Health System and University of Washington School of Medicine study shows.
Wives whose husbands were hospitalized for severe sepsis were nearly four times more likely to experience substantial depressive symptoms, according to the study released July 18 ahead of the August publish date in Critical Care Medicine.
Sepsis happens when an infection such as pneumonia or urinary tract infection throws off the immune system, prompting it to attack the body it's designed to protect. This exaggerated inflammatory response can trigger damage to vital body organs, bleeding, organ failure and possibly death.
Severe sepsis is responsible for four times more hospitalizations than more obvious illnesses such as heart attacks and is a leading cause of death among older Americans.
"We know that patients who survive sepsis face many new problems, but we know little about the emotional toll it takes on patients' loved ones," says senior author Theodore J. Iwashyna, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of internal medicine at U-M and who also works with the Institute of Social Research and the VA Center for Clinical Management Research.
"Emotional distress may diminish spouses' abilities to support patients in ongoing rehabilitation and act as surrogate decision-makers for them."
With hundreds of thousands of Americans hospitalized for severe sepsis a year, it is the most common non-cardiac cause of critical illness. The rapidly growing number of hospitalizations and disabilities caused by the condition especially impose overwhelming burdens on older spouses, Iwashyna notes.