Sepsis FAQ


The Law Of... surviving sepsis

Sepsis – often, incorrectly, referred to as septicaemia – affects 150,000 people in the UK each year. Daxa Patel, a Medical Negligence Partner at Simpson Millar, answers the most frequently asked questions about this potentially fatal condition.

The Law Of... surviving sepsis

What is Sepsis?

Sepsis occurs when your body's immune system, reacting to an infection or injury, starts damaging otherwise healthy tissue and organs. Often, it will decrease the blood supply to these areas and can result in septic shock, multiple organ failure, and ultimately death.

What are the symptoms of Sepsis?

The early symptoms to look out for if you suspect Sepsis are:

  • Fever or flu-like symptoms. Alternatively, unusually low body temperature is also an indicator
  • Severe shivering and chills
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Fast breathing

If full blown septic shock develops as a result of Sepsis, the symptoms might include a very low or very high temperature; dizziness or fainting; vomiting and diarrhoea; difficulty passing water; cold arms and legs; severe muscle pains; a change of mental state, such as confusion; loss of consciousness.

What is the difference between sepsis and septicaemia?

Sepsis and septicaemia are often used interchangeably, although they don't actually mean the same thing.

  • Sepsis – The condition (described above) resulting from an infection or injury
  • Septicaemia (blood poisoning) – Infection caused by an invasion of excessive bacteria in the bloodstream. Often caused by another infection elsewhere in the body

Septicaemia often leads to Sepsis, although it isn't the only cause. Viral and fungal infections can also trigger the illness.

What causes Sepsis?

Although Sepsis can be caused by an infection at any site in your body, it is most commonly precipitated by contamination to the lungs, abdomen, pelvis or urinary tract. It often manifests following surgery or a long stay in hospital (infected bed sores being a particularly common source of Sepsis).

What should I do if I suspect Sepsis?

If you, or somebody you know, are feeling very ill and displaying any of the symptoms listed above, there is a possibility it may be Sepsis. If that is the case, you should seek immediate medical help, as the sooner it is diagnosed and treated, the better chance you have of recovery.

The threat to your life that Sepsis poses cannot be underplayed. According to the UK Sepsis Trust (UKST), the condition leads to 44,000 deaths annually in the UK alone. This figure is greater than the combined death rates for bowel, breast and prostate cancer.

Why is it so important to seek immediate medical attention?

To understand how important it is get treatment for Sepsis quickly, consider the following:

Those who receive care within the first 'golden hour' have more than an 80% chance of survival. After the sixth hour, this drops to 30%.

What complications can arise from Sepsis?

As the condition worsens, Sepsis can bring about a large number of complications. As the blood flow to your organs is reduced, it can bring on heart, kidney or respiratory failure. There is also the possibility of blood clots forming in both your vital organs and limbs, which can also result in potentially fatal organ failure, as well as gangrene. The latter can require amputation and even lead to death.

What is key to reducing the Sepsis death rate?

Ultimately, it is having awareness.

A UKST poll revealed that only 40% of the British public had heard of Sepsis and only 40% of those who'd heard of it knew that it was a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment. The Trust estimates that 14,000 lives could be saved annually if more is done to increase recognition of the condition. This applies to not only the public, but medical professionals too.

Sepsis sometimes goes undiagnosed by Doctors, or doesn't get picked up on by nurses and paramedics due to the poor exposure Sepsis receives in comparison to other emergency illnesses such as strokes or heart attacks.

This is why Simpson Millar supports World Sepsis Day, which aims to raise awareness of this extremely debilitating and life-threatening affliction.

What if I contracted Sepsis in hospital, or my condition was missed by medical professionals?

If you contracted Sepsis while in hospital as a result of substandard care, or a medical worker failed to spot your condition, leading to further complications and long-term health problems or disability, you may be entitled to compensation.

If a family member has died after contracting Sepsis under similar circumstances, you may also be able to make a claim on their behalf.

Why should I make a claim?

Making a personal injury claim will:

  • Give you the financial security to help cope with the ongoing effects of your health problem or disability
  • Help to increase awareness of Sepsis and ensure that others don't suffer as a result of medical negligence

How do I make a claim?

To make a personal injury claim for medical negligence you should first seek legal advice from an expert solicitor with a proven track record in handling such cases. They will be able to offer you expert guidance and let you know whether you have grounds for such a claim.

How long do I have to make a claim?

There is a 3 year limitation on personal injury claims. This means you have 3 years from when your condition was diagnosed – or from when the adverse effects of your condition were discovered – to make a claim.

Where an infant is concerned, the 3 year limitation begins on their 18th birthday. If an application for damages has not been issued to the courts by the eve of their 21st birthday, the opportunity to make a claim is lost, unless the child is unable to take care of themselves.

What should I do next?

If you believe you contracted Sepsis due to failure of care, or your condition was allowed to get worse through failure to diagnose, you should obtain independent legal advice from an expert medical negligence law team.

Simpson Millar has the knowhow and the experience to ensure your claim is treated fairly and professionally, ensuring you get the compensation you are entitled to.

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