What Is Sepsis?
Sepsis is an extremely serious condition that can kill if not diagnosed and treated in time. Long-term and permanent effects can include brain damage and disability.
Sepsis remains one of the leading causes of death in hospitals. It is also one of the main reasons that patients have to be readmitted.
Most at risk are children, the elderly, patients with conditions such as cancer, diabetes, liver disease or weakened immune systems. Many of these deaths could be avoided.
Have you or a loved suffered from sepsis because of an infection caught in hospital? Did the doctors fail to diagnose and treat sepsis in time?
What Is The Sepsis Death Rate?
One-in-three UK hospital patients diagnosed with sepsis will die from it, according to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).
Every year more than 123,000 people in the UK will be diagnosed with sepsis – and 36,900 of them will die. That mortality rate is twice as bad as the USA where 1.7 million people develop sepsis and around 270,000 die (one-in-six).
This demonstrates that UK hospitals are still failing to get to grips with sepsis when compared with their US counterparts.
Have you lost a loved one to sepsis because your local GP or hospital doctors failed to act in time?
What Causes Sepsis?
Sepsis is caused by the body’s extreme response to an infection. When the body detects an infection, the immune system releases chemicals into the bloodstream to help deal with it.
This can be triggered by septicaemia (blood poisoning) when bacteria enter the bloodstream.
Sepsis occurs when the immune system’s reaction to an infection is too extreme; when the chemicals it releases do more harm than good, causing inflammation all over the body.
This widespread inflammation can result in blood clots and leaks in blood vessels. Vital organs are deprived of oxygen as the blood flow weakens. Multiple organs can quickly fail at the same time. The lungs, kidneys and liver can shut down – killing the patient.
Various microbes (viruses, fungi and especially bacteria) can all trigger a sepsis reaction in the body.
One form of the condition is called urosepsis. It occurs when there is an infection in the urinary tract – often when clinicians have failed to treat an infection promptly.
Biliary sepsis can affect people with a urinary tract infection – especially patients who are male, aged over 60 or have Cholangitis (inflammation of the bile duct).
Did Your Doctors Fail To Diagnose Sepsis?
It is vital that doctors diagnose and treat sepsis as quickly as possible before it causes organs to fail.
But some of the worst cases of sepsis are caused by a body-wide infection that spreads through the bloodstream. Some of these infections are impossible to detect in the blood – meaning that doctors have to rely on other indicators (such as body temperature and mental status) to diagnose sepsis.
Did you doctors fail to carry out the right tests to diagnose sepsis? Did they misdiagnose it or diagnose it too late?
Sepsis can be hard to spot in babies, young children, people with dementia or learning difficulties. The symptoms can be vague.
The patient may feel very unwell or as if something is seriously wrong. They may not have urinated all day (adults, older children) or in the last 12 hours (babies, young children). They may suffer from nausea, vomiting and be unable keep any food down.
Other signs of sepsis can include:
- a high temperature (fever) – above 37.5°C (99.5°F)
- low temperature (chills)
- swelling, redness or pain around a cut or wound
A person suffering from sepsis may feel hot or cold to the touch or be shivering. They may have a rapid pulse or be breathing rapidly (22 or more breaths per minute).
Sepsis can also bring on a change in the person’s mental state. This is a sign that their organs might not be functioning correctly – there is a higher risk of mortality at this point.
These mental changes could be anything from mild confusion to agitation and anxiety. In some cases the patient may have a lower level or consciousness. They may even be comatose.
Faced with these symptoms, did your doctors carry out the right tests? Did they check for:
- bacteria in your blood or other bodily fluids?
- a high or low white blood cell count or low platelet (blood clotting cells) count?
- low blood pressure?
- high levels of acid in the blood? (acidosis)
Did your doctors carry out an X-ray, run a CT scan or an ultrasound? Or were they slow to do so?
Signs Of Sepsis In Children
Sepsis in under-fives requires immediate treatment in A&E. You should dial 999 if your child:
- looks mottled, bluish or pale
- is lethargic or difficult to wake
- feels abnormally cold to the touch
- has a convulsion or fit
- has a rash that does not fade when you press it
- is breathing very fast.
Did you dial 999? Was the ambulance slow to arrive? Were the A&E clinicians slow to respond?
Stages Of Sepsis
There are three stages of Sepsis:
- Sepsis – sufferers will have a fever and a heart rate of 90+ beats per minute. Their breathing rate will increase.
- Severe sepsis – takes place when there is organ failure. Signs include patches of discoloured skin, decreased urination, changes in mental state, low platelet count, breathing difficulties, abnormal heart functions, chills, unconsciousness and extreme weakness.
- Septic shock – all the symptoms of severe sepsis plus very low blood pressure.
Sepsis must be treated quickly – usually with antibiotics. If the doctors can catch it at an early stage then the patient is likely to make a full recovery.
Doctors should carry out three tests and three treatments – the ‘Sepsis Six’ – within an hour of diagnosing the condition:
- Three tests – taking blood cultures to identify the bacteria; taking a blood sample to determine the severity of the condition; monitoring urine output to assess severity and kidney function
- Three treatments – antibiotics, intravenous fluids, oxygen (if levels are too low).
Patients can die if there is a delay in diagnosis, referral, hospital admission or treatment.
Other examples of medical negligence can include a failure to carry out the correct tests (or failure to interpret the test results correctly).
In some cases a patient may be sent home with sepsis – caused by an infection they caught at the hospital.
Claim Compensation (No Win, No Fee) For Sepsis
No amount of money can ever compensate you for the loss of a loved one. But it can help to provide for your family and prevent the tragedy of bereavement from harming their financial future.
You or a loved one may need long-term care if sepsis has resulted in disability or long-term injuries. Medical negligence compensation will fund the treatment you need.
No-one wants to sue the NHS. But sometimes it is necessary to secure an explanation and apology for what went wrong – and to stop it from happening to other families.
Find out more about claiming compensation – claim ‘No Win, No Fee’ so there is no financial risk to you.
Contact Coles Miller Partner David Simpson, head of the Medical Negligence Department for more information.
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