Sepsis is a very serious medical condition that can be fatal. It occurs where your body overcompensates and has an extreme response to an infection. When the body detects the infection it floods the bloodstream with chemicals in order to fight it. If sepsis is not adequately treated, it can move into later stages including severe sepsis and then septic shock. This can cause inflammation throughout the body, slowing blood flow, organ damage, tissue damage, organ failure, and death.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has instituted several initiatives designed to raise awareness of sepsis for the public, as well as healthcare facilities and healthcare providers. It underscores the strategy of treating sepsis as an urgent priority while providing education on preventing the infections that can cause sepsis.
A recent study by JAMA Network found that sepsis was a contributor in 1 of every 2 to 3 deaths in US hospitals even though most of these patients showed symptoms of sepsis at admission. This makes sepsis the leading cause of death in US hospitals.
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), more than a million Americans get sepsis each year. Researchers estimate that between 28% and 50% of those who get sepsis die from it. That is more than US deaths caused by AIDS, breast cancer, and prostate cancer combined. Sepsis cases have been steadily increasing in the US. Experts attribute this to a variety of factors including recent increases in invasive medical procedures, the spread of organisms that are antibiotic resistant, the aging population, that people with chronic conditions are living longer, the wider use of chemotherapeutic and immunosuppressive agents, and people are more aware so cases are being documented more accurately.
In the most recent data reports, the CDC found that 6% deaths reported from 1999-2014 had sepsis listed as a cause of the death and 22% of deaths has sepsis listed as a contributing factor.
Sepsis affects more than 26 million people worldwide every year and is responsible for the death of over 5 million children.
Symptoms of Sepsis
Sepsis does not have specific symptoms, but instead, has a combination of symptoms. The patient may experience symptoms from the infection that is causing the sepsis, such as vomiting, diarrhea, sore throat, and other signs of infection. The sepsis symptoms will appear as well, including:
- Extreme pain or discomfort
- Very cold, shivering
- Sweaty to clammy skin
- Disorientation or confusion
- Shortness of breath
- Increased heart rate
If any of these symptoms are noted, especially if they appear with symptoms of infection, the patient should seek medical attention immediately. Sepsis can be life threatening in its early stages so the earlier it is caught and treated, the better chance the patient has of recovering.
Patients who have had surgery should be particularly vigilant. If they feel worse in the days after surgery, or if they don’t feel they are getting better they should talk to their doctor about sepsis. It is important to tell their doctor that they are concerned about sepsis. Because its symptoms are so similar to other conditions, it can be difficult to diagnose in the early stages. It is not enough to look solely at the symptoms, but also at how the patient may have risk factors for sepsis, such as being hospitalized, dealing with an infection in the body, or undergoing surgery.
Who is at Risk for Sepsis?
Anyone can get sepsis, but there are certain people who are in a higher risk category and are more likely to get it. Infants, children, and the elderly are the most vulnerable, along with people who have weakened immune systems. People with chronic illnesses such as kidney disease, diabetes, cancer, and liver disease are at an increased risk, as are people who have experienced physical trauma or severe burns.
Anyone with any type of infection in the body can become septic. Sinus infection, flu, pneumonia, appendicitis, urinary tract infection, and other illnesses can lead to sepsis. Invasive medical procedures can introduce bacteria into the body, mainly the bloodstream, and cause the condition – it can also come from a localized infection. While bacteria are the most common cause of sepsis, it can also be brought on by viruses and fungi.
How is Sepsis Diagnosed?
Often times a patient will come to a doctor’s office or emergency room and tell the doctor that they suspect sepsis. Other times, the doctor will assess the patient’s symptoms and systematically rule out other conditions. They will look for increased respiratory rate, increased heart rate, and fever as markers. Often, they will order a blood test to see the patient’s white blood cell count. This is a common sign of sepsis, along with an elevated lactate level. This can also be indicative of the condition’s severity. The doctor may also order tests on the blood as well as urine and other bodily fluids. A CT scan or chest X-ray can also aid in diagnosing or finding the infection site. The challenge that the doctor often has is identifying both the infection and the sepsis.
If you believe your doctor didn’t properly diagnose sepsis call Kaire & Heffernan today. Our talented, qualified, experienced attorneys can help you with misdiagnosis claims and medical malpractice. Call us today.