What is sepsis and why is it so dangerous?

Sepsis is a serious medical condition that can catch a lot of people out because some of the early symptoms can be mistaken for much less serious issues.

Sepsis is a complication of an infection – basically an infection that is allowed to develop. If it not treated quickly it can lead to organ failure and death. The NHS says 37,000 people die from 123,000 cases of sepsis in the UK each year.

It is something that we encounter frequently at Browell Smith & Co Solicitors because it is frequently missed, or misdiagnosed. If you believe you have sepsis, or are showing any of the symptoms described below, seek medical help immediately.

Sepsis is in the news frequently – it hit the headlines recently because Abi Bannatyne, the daughter of Dragon’s Den star Duncan, developed sepsis, and claims she almost died because her symptoms were mistaken for a hangover.

What are the symptoms of sepsis?

In children under five years, the following symptoms represent a medical emergency and you should call 999:

  • looks mottled, bluish or pale
  • is very lethargic or difficult to wake
  • feels abnormally cold to touch
  • is breathing very fast
  • has a rash that does not fade when you press it
  • has a fit or convulsion

There are other, less urgent (but still serious) symptoms, too, listed on the NHS site here.

In adults, or older children, the early signs of sepsis can include:

  • a high temperature (fever) or low body temperature
  • chills and shivering
  • a fast heartbeat
  • fast breathing

And these can quickly develop to:

  • feeling dizzy or faint
  • a change in mental state – such as confusion or disorientation
  • diarrhoea
  • nausea and vomiting
  • slurred speech
  • severe muscle pain
  • severe breathlessness
  • less urine production than normal – for example, not urinating for a day
  • cold, clammy and pale or mottled skin
  • loss of consciousness

As you can see, the early signs can closely resemble a hangover or fever. It underlines the importance of going to see a GP as quickly as possible if you have symptoms such as these, or if you continue to feel unwell/feel worse.

How can you develop sepsis?

People most at risk of developing sepsis include those with a medical condition or receiving medical treatment that weakens their immune system. It can also include those are already in hospital with a serious illness, the very young or very old, and those who have just had surgery or who have wounds or injuries as a result of an accident.

Septic shock can develop after childbirth and is triggered by bacteria entering the bloodstream – women who have suffered tears are especially susceptible.

Can you make a legal claim because of sepsis?

One of the biggest issues with Sepsis is when it is either misdiagnosed, or simply not recognised. As we have explained, the nature of the early symptoms can make it difficult to spot, but the speed with which Sepsis can cause serious, life-threatening damage means it is vital to detect it early.

At-risk patients are usually treated to an early screening upon admission to hospital, but there are still cases where this has not happened.

There are strict guidelines for health professional that relate to screening and treating sepsis, and if these are not followed, leading to injury or even death, then there might be grounds for a legal claim for compensation.

Contact our expert team today to arrange a no-obligation chat at any of our offices, in Newcastle, Cramlington, Ashington and Sunderland, or alternatively by 0800 107 3000, to discuss your particular requirements.

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