Sepsis is as a life-threatening condition that arises when the body’s response to an infection causes it to attack its own tissues and organs.
The immune system usually works to fight any germs to prevent infection. If an infection occurs, the immune system will fight it, sometimes requiring assistance with medication. The Sepsis Alliance explains that sometimes, for unknown reasons, the immune system sets off a series of reactions including widespread inflammation which can cause a significant decrease in blood pressure, reducing blood supply to vital organs and starving them of oxygen. This is sepsis.
The very young, the very old, people with chronic illnesses and those with weakened or impaired immune systems are at a higher risk of developing sepsis because they are at higher risk of contracting an infection.
There is no single sign or symptom of sepsis. According to The UK Sepsis Trust the symptoms of sepsis in adults include:
- 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
In children the symptoms include:
- Cold to touch
- Mottled/bluish appearance, or very pale skin
- Rash than does not fade when pressed
- Rapid breathing
- Loss of appetite (under 5 years old)
- Vomiting repeatedly (under 5 years old)
- No urination in 12 hours (under 5 years old)
Sepsis can lead to multiple organ failure and death, so early diagnosis and treatment of sepsis is crucial. Left untreated, sepsis can progress to severe sepsis and septic shock with a mortality of between 30% and 50%.
There is no single test for sepsis. Sepsis is diagnosed by considering the presenting symptoms, the patient’s history and various tests (blood, urine, x-ray, CT scan, MRI scan).
There is no single treatment for sepsis. Broad spectrum antibiotics are usually administered first because they work against several different types of bacteria. Intravenous fluids are administered to maintain blood pressure and organ function.
Since 2011 most healthcare settings have applied The UK Sepsis Trust’s recommended “Sepsis Six” within one hour of admission to hospital which has resulted in a reduction in mortality. Patients who are ‘red flagged’ are started on the Sepsis Six approach and the components are:
- Give oxygen to keep oxygen saturation above 94%
- Take blood cultures
- Give IV antibiotics
- Give a fluid challenge
- Check full blood count and measure lactate
- Measure urine output
If sepsis is diagnosed and treated early, patients will make a good recovery and suffer relatively little ongoing ill-effect. Some survivors face long term physical and mental problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, cognitive problems, chronic pain and organ dysfunction. In extreme cases a blood clot or poor blood circulation may have resulted in necrosis and amputation of fingers, toes or limbs.
If there have been delays in either the diagnosis or treatment of sepsis leading to injury, victims should seek advice from a specialist medical negligence solicitor in order to make a claim for compensation for the avoidable harm that they have suffered.
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