What are the First Signs of Sepsis?

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Some of the most traumatic conditions we come across as Medical Negligence Solicitors involve sepsis.

Sepsis occurs when the body creates an overwhelming response to an infection. It can be contracted in various ways (not necessarily through medical negligence) and is, thankfully, uncommon. Once sepsis has been contracted, however, its progression is often rapid and the consequences can be devastating.

If you suspect that someone you know is at risk from contracting sepsis, it’s vital that they seek immediate medical treatment.

If you contracted sepsis through clinical or medical negligence, we may be able to help you make a sepsis claim, so you can get the compensation and rehabilitation support you deserve.

We offer a free consultation and may be able to deal with your case on a No Win, No Fee basis. Ask us for details.

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What is Sepsis?

Sepsis, also known as ‘septic shock’ or ‘septicaemia’, is caused by when the immune system ‘overreacts’ to an infection. The initial infection can start anywhere in the body, perhaps from a cut or a urine infection.

Various bacteria or viruses can cause it and these will often be present quite safely in another part of your body. Dressed wounds are common problem areas, because some bacteria thrive in anaerobic (oxygen-free) environments.

Sepsis can be mild when it starts, but if left untreated, it can cause a ‘runaway’ cascade of defence responses with life-threatening consequences.

What are the Early Signs of Sepsis?

The signs of worsening infection are often clear but can be open to differing interpretations by your treating doctor. This isn’t necessarily wrong but can lead to difficulties arising when you’re pursuing a claim for compensation, especially if clear medical records aren’t kept at the time.

You can help by telling the doctor or nurse about:

  • Immediate trauma or discomfort developing quickly in the general region of the trauma
  • Pain which seems to be out of proportion with (or in a different area to) the location of the trauma
  • Signs of infection such as a high temperature, disorientation, flu-like symptoms, vomiting, diarrhoea, dehydration, fever, malaise, weakness and/or muscle pain
  • Areas of broken skin (such as pressure sores) or discoloured skin (possibly red or black) around the infected area
  • A particularly unpleasant smell coming from the infected area or gangrene, or
  • A rapid deterioration in the person’s condition.

Not all of these symptoms will be present in every case and each of them can be caused by entirely different conditions.

However, it may help if you tell the treating medical staff about any symptoms you’re concerned about, although we don’t advise you to try telling the treating health professionals what to do.

Keeping a note of your questions and the responses you receive can often help later (particularly in emergency situations). You can help to prevent a possible misdiagnosis by giving clear details of your previous medical history and any medication you’re receiving.

In one case we recently won, the correct diagnosis was only made when the Claimant’s wife tracked down her husband’s usual doctor in another part of the hospital and insisted that she come and see her husband, even though this doctor no longer had responsibility for her husband’s care.

Fortunately, this doctor immediately recognised the infection for what it was and the gentleman’s life was saved.

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Consequences of Sepsis

Whilst the consequences are often dependent on the bacterium or virus responsible, they are usually dramatic and severe. So time is of the essence.

Sepsis may not necessarily result from the infection. To help with a prompt diagnosis, your clinicians should be trying to exclude the possibility of sepsis - rather than assuming it isn’t present.

The ‘quick SOFA’ score (sequential organ failure assessment) is used where sepsis should be diagnosed if a patient has any 2 of these symptoms:

  • Increased breathing rate
  • A change in their level of consciousness
  • Low blood pressure.

Medical imaging also helps to identify the possible source of the infection.

What Happens after Diagnosis?

Once a sepsis diagnosis has been made, 6 steps should be taken within the next hour:

  • Improve oxygen levels
  • Take blood samples
  • Administer intravenous antibiotics
  • Measure the build-up of lactate levels
  • Rebalance fluid levels
  • Accurately measure urine output.

These steps are called the ‘Sepsis Six’ and are the current international standard. They aim to ‘identify’, ‘treat’ and ‘prevent deterioration’.

Treatment will often occur in Intensive Care and a properly experienced specialist will need to carefully assess the nature and extent of your injury. The amount and type of treatment will likely require careful consideration by the medical team and different doctors may have different views.

The medical staff must still act within an acceptable range of medical opinion in providing the treatment and in attempting to prevent other injuries arising. Even if the treatment successfully kills the initial infection and stops the sepsis, patients may suffer severe consequences.

For example, the long-term organ damage, cognitive impairment, breathing difficulties and reduced mobility can all occur in extreme cases.

And unfortunately, sepsis can be fatal.

Can I Claim Compensation?

As with any medical condition, it’s important not to jump to the wrong conclusion. But while doctors are highly trained and cases of negligence are rare, sometimes things do go wrong, and you should be prepared for this.

In those circumstances, it may be appropriate to seek compensation after trying the official NHS Complaints Procedure.

Contact us for a free consultation and we’ll be happy to help you.

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