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Sepsis, sometimes known as blood poisoning, is a rare complication of an infection.
Sepsis commonly occurs from Urinary Tract Infections and Pneumonia in the lungs but can occur from any bacterial or viral infection.
Usually, your immune system localises infection, meaning that it is limited to the affected area in the body. Your body’s natural response involves the production of white blood cells which travel to the isolated site of infection and attempt to destroy the bacteria which have caused it. If a person has a weakened immune system (perhaps due to a genetic disorder, possible disease, or if they are undergoing chemotherapy) the body produces a limited about of white blood cells. This in turn will make it particularly difficult for the body to attack the infection and therefore it can spread rapidly.
In a healthy individual; the immune system will try and fight off the infection, however, if the body overreacts and produces too many antibodies, it can start to damage heathy tissue and organs. This is what is known as sepsis.
Unfortunately, it is when sepsis remains untreated that it becomes life-threatening. This is because it can turn into septic shock. This is when the infection is severe enough to damage vital organs, which in turn causes a significant drop in blood pressure. Over time, this can cause heart failure or a stroke. Sepsis is particularly dangerous as it can lead to death in a matter of days in left untreated.
How is Sepsis Diagnosed
While there is no definitive diagnostic test for sepsis, it can usually be diagnosed on simple measurements such as temperature, heart rate, and blood tests. To further determine the type of infection and what bodily functions have been affected, other measurements may need to be taken. These include; urine or stool samples, blood pressure tests, x-rays, respiratory secretion testing (from the saliva, phlegm or mucus) and wound culture.
What are the Symptoms of Sepsis
Unfortunately, Sepsis can initially present as the flu or a chest infection. Commonly presented signs and symptoms differ between children and adults.
Older Children and Adults
- Difficulty breathing or breathing very fast
- A rapid heart rate, confused or disoriented
- No, or very little, urination
- Shakes and shivering
- Extreme tiredness and feeling generally very unwell
- A blotchy rash that does not fade when a glass is rolled over it
In Babies and Young Children
- A weak high pitched dry
- Reduction in wet nappies
- Being sleepy or difficult to wake
- A very high, or very low temperature
If you suspect that you or someone close to you may have Sepsis, it is vital to seek medical attention by calling 999 or attending A&E immediately.
Treatment and Prognosis
If caught early enough, sepsis can be treated with antibiotics and patients usually make a full recovery. Unfortunately, for those left undiagnosed, the infection can take affect extremely quickly which can lead to multiple organ failure and subsequently death. Often, if the infection has been left and there has been a delay in diagnoses, it will attack the extremities first. This can result in the need for amputation if there is no other alternative to stopping the infection from spreading.
BBC News research in July 2019 illustrated that almost one quarter of patients have to wait longer than the maximum timescale of 1 hour between suspected sepsis and being placed on an antibiotic drip. It is reported that in some hospitals; over half of patients experience delays. Dr Ron Daniels, of the UK Sepsis Trust, said the “concerning” figures showed patients were being put at risk.
Dr Daniels said the one-hour window was “essential to increase the chances of surviving” and that “there is no reason really why it should take longer”.
The Sepsis Trust believes there are about 250,000 cases every year in the UK – and more than 50,000 deaths.
Clinical Negligence and Sepsis
As a sepsis infection can cause lasting and life threatening damage very quickly, it is important that medical professionals diagnose and treat a patient in a prompt manner. If your sepsis infection was misdiagnosed or diagnosed later than it should have been, you may have a claim in clinical negligence. There are a number of scenarios that our team can assist with, including;
- Missed or late diagnosis
- A delay in appropriate treatment
- Mistreatment of complications arising post sepsis recovery
If you have experienced any of the above, you may have a claim in clinical negligence.