National Sepsis Awareness Month: What is Sepsis?

Monday, September 4, 2017

National Sepsis Awareness Month: What is Sepsis?

Written by Malman Law, reviewed by Steve J. Malman.

Sepsis is a life-threatening bodily response to an infection. Without treatment it leads to tissue damage, organ failure, and death.

Sadly, sepsis kills more than 258,000 people each year, according to Sepsis Alliance. That is why the group started their National Sepsis Awareness Month to bring awareness to the public about this deadly infection, and how it can be treated with prompt medical attention and antibiotics.

What is National Sepsis Awareness Month?

Every two minutes in the United States someone dies of sepsis, which is more than those from breast cancer, AIDS, and prostate cancer combined, according to the Sepsis Alliance.

Each September, the Sepsis Alliance hosts their awareness campaign to show the world about early recognition. When the signs and symptoms are recognized, and treatment administered promptly, sepsis is treatable.

What is Sepsis?

Sepsis is a common, but very serious infection that affects the body. It is also known as blood poisoning, but affects the tissues and organs of the body as well.

Sepsis stems from a variety of infections, most of which come from bacteria that you encounter daily. A life-threatening infection can develop when the immune system reacts negatively to the bacteria and is left untreated.

The General Symptoms of Sepsis

Sepsis comes in three stages: sepsis, severe sepsis, and septic shock. Early stages are treatable and often non-fatal. However, once you pass into the second and third stages, the illness is much harder to treat – and the third often leads to death.

Sepsis can happen while you are in the hospital recovering from a procedure, at home a few days, or even weeks after treatment. The following symptoms are warning signs you could have sepsis.

  • Fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit or falling temperature that rests below 96.8 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Heart rate at 90 beats per minute or higher
  • Signs of infection
  • High breathing rate – approximately 20 breaths per minute or more

Once sepsis has progressed, you may notice other symptoms which are associated with tissue and organ failure. These symptoms include:

  • Discolored skin patches
  • Decreased urine output
  • Mental abilities changing unexpectedly
  • Breathing problems
  • Low blood cell count
  • Heart function issues
  • Chills
  • Extreme weakness
  • Low blood pressure

The Primary Causes of Sepsis

Even healthy adults can develop sepsis. However, most cases of sepsis come from cases of pneumonia, abdominal infection, bloodstream infection, or postoperative infection. An infection can be picked up while at the hospital, fester, and later turn into sepsis.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of cases of sepsis increase every year. The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIH) states that sepsis causes more deaths in the United States than some forms of cancer.

Sadly, most of these deaths are preventable. Many stem from provider negligence or error – such as a physician or healthcare provider’s failure to recognize the symptoms and treat the infection early enough to prevent death.

Other reasons for the increased numbers of sepsis cases include:

  • The aging population of the United States puts more Americans at risk – because seniors are more likely to develop sepsis after a hospital stay.
  • Increasing numbers of patients who are antibiotic resistant.
  • An increased number of individuals in the United States with illnesses that weaken their immune system.

Other Causes of Sepsis Associated with Negligence

An error by a hospital, healthcare provider, or manufacturer of medical equipment can result in sepsis. Common causes that are directly associated with malpractice or negligence include:

  • Bedsores: Untreated bedsores develop in nursing homes, and on immobile hospital patients. When the patient is left unattended in a fixed position, the skin and tissues deteriorate. When left untreated, the sores eventually turn into wounds – and if the wounds remains open they can acquire an infection that eventually leads to sepsis. Open wounds can also develop – and get infected – if a bedsore gets to the point where bones break through the delicate skin.
  • Intravenous Line Contamination: When an intravenous line is not properly cleaned, sanitized, or is contaminated during manufacturing, it can allow an infection to be introduced directly into the bloodstream.
  • Surgical Site Infections: Anyone that has undergone surgery needs medications, such as antibiotics, to properly prevent an infection. This allows the open wound to heal. When the medication is not taken properly, or the surgical site is not properly cleaned, the wound heals slower and could lead to sepsis.
  • Undiagnosed Infection: Infections are undiagnosed typically in the emergency room where doctors are too busy to order proper tests. If the individual goes to the emergency room with the symptoms of an infection, and the symptoms are not recognized, it could eventually turn into sepsis and lead to septic shock.

The Consequences of Sepsis and Septic Shock

Life Science performed their own research and found that a sepsis condition has devastating consequences; especially in the elderly or those with a compromised immune system. Not only does the victim experience medical consequences, but there emotional tolls as well. Some side effects of sepsis include, but are not limited to:

  • Low Blood Pressure –  Elderly individuals are more likely to suffer from sepsis, and are also at a higher risk of death. When low blood pressure is combined with sepsis, the combination can be fatal.
  • Cognitive Deterioration – Those that suffer from sepsis, especially older adults, can suffer from cognitive degeneration.
  • Organ Failure – Organ failure is likely once severe sepsis sets in. At this point, a person could have permanently damaged kidneys, require an organ transplant, or suffer severe organ failure that can lead to death.
  • Heart Damage – When sepsis progresses, it can permanently damage the tissues of the heart. This may leave a patient with permanent heart complications that make it impossible to maintain their lifestyle or even work. Sometimes, it can dramatically shorten a patient’s lifespan.
  • Surgeries – The patient may have multiple surgeries to remove dead tissue, or possibly an amputation to remove a portion of the body that is badly affected by the infection.

Sepsis and Medical Malpractice Claims

The most common reason that patients file a wrongful death lawsuit or malpractice case against a physician for sepsis is a misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. In this case, the physician either failed to properly diagnose the patient with sepsis – or another type of infection that led to sepsis – or they delayed their diagnosis to the point where sepsis developed.

  • Failure to diagnose or misdiagnosis. This means that the physician failed to diagnose the sepsis or infection. Also, it can involve misdiagnosing the symptoms of sepsis by mistaking them for another condition.
  • Failure to treat. If a patient has the symptoms of sepsis or another infection, physicians must do their part to treat that infection before it progresses and wreaks havoc within the body.
  • Contamination. Other times, the hospital or health care provider can cause sepsis through contamination. As stated earlier, sepsis is caused by bacterial infections. A person can be infected in a hospital due to inadequate infection control, sanitization, or poor employee training. If this infection develops into sepsis, the patient could hold the hospital or medical provider responsible.

Is It Negligence?

Not all cases of sepsis are caused by negligence. In fact, sepsis can be caused by the patient themself, or even by unexplained circumstances. If, however, a healthcare provider failed to perform his or her duty and sepsis was the result of the failure, that party could be held liable for the injuries that result from the infection.

Damages for Sepsis in a Malpractice Case

If you do have a case of medical malpractice based on sepsis, it is imperative you speak with an attorney. An attorney can review your case and determine if you have sufficient evidence for a malpractice or wrongful death claim.

When successful, your claim may qualify for several types of damages, depending on the extent of your injuries. Some common types of damages include:

  • Medical Costs – The medical costs that you may accumulate as the result of sepsis could be extensive – especially if you have surgeries, extended hospital stays, and multiple treatments. You can seek reimbursement for those you have paid out-of-pocket, but also for any future medical costs associated with your treatments.
  • Lost Wages – You most likely will miss an extensive amount of time from work. In that case, you can seek damages that will compensate you for those lost wages.
  • Loss of Future Earning Capacity – Lost future earning capacity is not the same as lost wages. Lost wages focus on the wages you have already missed while recovering from your illness. However, the loss of future earning capacity focuses on the wages you could earn in the future – had you not suffered the illness. If you are permanently disabled from your infection, these future wages could result in extensive compensation.
  • Pain and Suffering – Sepsis and severe sepsis can be physically agonizing. You may also suffer emotional distress because of your injuries. Therefore, you may seek damages for both your emotional and physical pain and suffering.

Speak with an Injury Attorney

If you suspect that you are a victim of a failure to diagnose or treat that led to sepsis, you could receive compensation for your injuries. Speak with an injury advocate from Malman Law today by calling our offices at 888-625-6265, or request an appointment online.

Steve Malman

Malman Law’s founder Attorney Steven Malman has over 30 years of experience handling personal injury, nursing home, medical malpractice, truck accidents, car accidents, premises liability, construction, and workers’ compensation cases in Chicago, IL.

Years of experience: +30 years
Justia Profile: Steve Malman
Illinois Registration Status: Active and authorized to practice law—Last Registered Year: 2024

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This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by President and Founder, Steven J. Malman who has more than 20 years of legal experience as a personal injury attorney.

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