What is sepsis?

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Sepsis, sometimes called septicaemia or blood poisoning, is when your immune system overreacts to an infection and starts to damage your body’s organs and tissues. Sepsis can affect your whole body. It can stop your kidneys and liver from working properly and even your blood from clotting.

Sepsis cannot be caught from another person but it is a life-threatening condition that requires emergency treatment, usually in a hospital.

A recent survey revealed that sepsis was the cause of death of more than 11 million people across 195 nations; a greater number than are killed by cancer. Unfortunately, many of these deaths result from ignorance of sepsis and its causes.

What are the signs of sepsis?

Sepsis can be difficult to spot. At the start of an infection, you may look okay even when you feel very sick. The Sepsis Trust, a charity that seeks to raise awareness of sepsis, has developed a useful mnemonic to help spot possible symptoms:

  • Slurred speech or confusion
  • Extreme shivering or muscle pain
  • Passing no urine (in a day)
  • Severe breathlessness
  • It feels like you’re going to die
  • Skin mottled or discoloured

Sepsis can be harder to diagnose in children and babies because the symptoms can be different, and children can struggle to report their symptoms accurately so it’s even more important to be vigilant.

The NHS advise you to call 999 or go to A&E if a baby or young child has any or all of these symptoms of sepsis:

  • Blue, pale or blotchy skin, lips or tongue;
  • A rash that does not fade when you roll a glass over it (the same as meningitis);
  • Difficulty breathing (you may notice grunting noises or their stomach sucking under their ribcage);
  • Breathlessness or breathing very fast;
  • A weak, high-pitched cry that’s not like their normal cry;
  • Not responding like they normally do or not interested in feeding or normal activities; and/or
  • Being sleepier than normal or difficult to wake.

What can cause sepsis?

The causes of sepsis can be widespread but some of the most common causes of sepsis include:

  • Untreated foot infections especially in people who suffer from diabetes
  • Delay in treating meningitis
  • Untreated urinary tract infections in the elderly
  • Staphylococcus aureus infections in children

Sepsis can be caused by fungal, parasitic, or viral infections and it can start anywhere in the body. Whilst anyone can get sepsis, the NHS provides a list of people who are more likely to get an infection that could lead to sepsis. These are:

  • Babies under one, particularly if they’re born prematurely or their mother had an infection while pregnant
  • Those over 75 years old
  • People with diabetes
  • People with a weakened immune system, such as those having chemotherapy treatment or who recently had an organ transplant
  • Individuals who have recently had surgery or a serious illness
  • Women who have just given birth, had a miscarriage or had an abortion

How is sepsis treated?

If a medical professional suspects you have sepsis, they should admit you to a hospital immediately. What treatment you receive will depend on the cause of the infection, e.g. bacterial infections might be treated with antibiotics given through a drip directly into your bloodstream or surgery may be needed to you may need to remove any build-ups of pus.

At the same time, you’ll need supportive treatment to help keep your body and organs functioning: this might take the form of a fluid drip, an oxygen mask or even admission to an intensive care unit for support with your breathing or other vital functioning.

What happens if a sepsis diagnosis is delayed?

If sepsis isn’t diagnosed promptly, up to 50% of people with sepsis will die. However, with prompt treatment, the outlook is much brighter even though full recovery can take a long time. You might be in hospital for many weeks, and even when you return home you may need support for months afterwards. Long term after-effects of sepsis can include tiredness, weakness and shortness of breath. You may experience joint or chest pains or become more vulnerable to infection. Mentally, you may be left depressed or anxious.

Unfortunately, sepsis is not always diagnosed as soon as it should be, and if you or a loved one has experienced a delayed diagnosis, it’s natural to want some answers.

Our specialist medical negligence solicitors can help you to get the answers you need as well as recover compensation to fund rehabilitation and care.

Case study | £110k for fatal delayed diagnosis of sepsis associated with pneumonia

Recovering from sepsis

Those who have suffered from sepsis will need support before things can get back to normal. You should be prepared to take things slowly, only increasing your activity levels as you can. You may also need help from your family, Social Services, or private carers if you’re struggling with everyday activities like cleaning, cooking or shopping.

If you think you acquired sepsis negligently or you experienced a delay in diagnosis or treatment, you may need the help of a medical negligence solicitor who specialises in sepsis compensation claims.

Case study | £650k for man who passed away from untreated sepsis following heart surgery

Contact our specialist solicitors about making a sepsis compensation claim

Whilst many recover from sepsis, some will require professional help to help them to get back on track. Either way, investigating a potential sepsis claim is a complex process that requires a specialist medical negligence lawyer.

If you’re considering a compensation claim for sepsis, it’s important that you speak to a specialist medical negligence solicitor. We’ll need to demonstrate that any injuries caused by your sepsis resulted from a delay or error in diagnosis or treatment or even a negligently acquired infection.

You can discuss a potential sepsis claim by calling us on 0117 325 2929 or completing our online enquiry form.


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