Sepsis Medical Negligence 101

What you need to know about an often-preventable killer.

Sepsis is one of the most deadly and costly medical conditions physicians and hospitals must face. In fact, statistics show that sepsis is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. Mortality rates for sepsis is extremely high – approximately 25-30%—with more individuals dying of sepsis than prostate cancer, breast cancer, and HIV combined. Hospitalizations due to sepsis cost the healthcare system more than any other condition in the U.S.,4with a total annual cost greater than $24 billion dollars.

Startling findings of a recent study suggest that sepsis, a medical condition that often escapes public notice, is involved in as many as one in five deaths worldwide.

And the disease, sometimes referred to as blood poisoning, is surprisingly common. In the U.S. alone there are an estimated 1.7 million cases reported annually, leading to 270,000 deaths. Those statistics are more than double what was previously believed.

While there are sepsis cases that occur due to infections that could not have been prevented, there are also many cases, some that even cause death, that could have been completely avoided.

When those types of cases harm or kill an individual, it may be due to medical negligence.

What Is Sepsis?

Contrary to what many believe, sepsis itself isn’t an infection. Rather, it’s a potential complication of all types of infections. Essentially, sepsis is the presence of harmful bacteria and their toxins in the tissues of the body. It’s most commonly a result of an infection in a wound. Sepsis occurs with an individual’s immune system releases chemicals into the bloodstream to fight infection. Instead of doing so, they cause inflammation throughout the body.

Developing sepsis can be life-threatening, and it often is fatal when left untreated. People with compromised immune systems or chronic medical conditions have a higher risk of developing sepsis.

Although any type of infection can lead to sepsis, the most common varieties include: pneumonia, abdominal infection, kidney or urinary tract infection, and bacteremia or bloodstream infection.

Common symptoms and side-effects of sepsis include:

  • High fever
  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid breathing
  • Chills
  • Gangrene
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Organ failure

Symptoms Of Septic Shock

Septic shock is a case of very severe sepsis and at this point, the chances of survival are often very compromised.

Symptoms include the following:

  • Fainting
  • Low blood pressure
  • Extreme lethargy
  • Cognitive impairment

What Causes Sepsis?

Sepsis is caused by infection, most commonly a bacterial infection. However, a viral, fungal, or even parasitic infection can also lead to sepsis. The infection that causes sepsis can begin anywhere in the body, but some of the most common include:

  • Appendix (appendicitis) or abdominal cavity (peritonitis)
  • Gallbladder
  • Digestive system
  • Liver
  • Bloodstream (bacteremia)
  • Lungs
  • Connective tissue of the skin (cellulitis)
  • Urinary tract, including kidneys and bladder
  • Brain or spinal cord
  • Skin

Often, sepsis occurs in patients who are hospitalized, especially those in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Bacteria can be introduced into the body through openings in the skin made with intravenous catheters, or with a catheter used to drain urine. A surgical patient’s wound may also become infected, leading to sepsis.

What are Risk Factors for Sepsis?

Anyone can become septic. However, there are certain factors that put one at greater risk. Risk factors for sepsis include:

  • Being immunocompromised
  • Being very old or very young
  • Having diabetes
  • Having chronic liver or kidney disease
  • Recent use of antibiotics or corticosteroids
  • Long hospital stays, particularly in the ICU
  • Use of invasive medical devices such as IVs, breathing tubes, or urinary catheters

If the above symptoms are not treated promptly and correctly, septic shock may develop. If that happens, the patient’s blood pressure will remain very low despite medical attempts to raise it.

How is Sepsis Diagnosed?

In addition to a likely or confirmed infection, a diagnosis of sepsis requires three things:

  • Systolic blood pressure of 100 mm Hg or lower. Systolic blood pressure is the first number in the blood pressure reading.
  • Respiratory rate of 22 breaths per minute or higher
  • Change in mental status; confusion or disorientation

A white blood cell count that is high or low, a low platelet count, blood clotting issues, electrolyte imbalances, or abnormal liver or kidney function can also help doctors diagnose sepsis. If doctors do not know where the patient’s infection originated, they may perform imaging tests to learn more.

Septic shock is diagnosed if the patient needs medicine to keep systolic blood pressure at or above 65, and if there are high levels of lactic acid in the blood, known as acidosis.

Why Early Diagnosis of Sepsis is so Important for Outcomes

Early detection of sepsis is critical, as a delay in antibiotic treatment has been documented to result in increased an increased mortality rate, with a 7.6% increase in death for patients with severe sepsis and septic shock every hour antibiotic administration is delayed8.

The earlier sepsis is recognized and the earlier the treatment starts, the better the outcome for the patient.

How is Sepsis Treated?

Patients are commonly treated with broad spectrum antibiotics to try to wipe out the infection as quickly as possible. Doctors may order more targeted antibiotics when lab tests indicate the particular bacteria causing the infection.

Patients are usually placed on IV fluids and may be given medications called vasopressors, which constrict blood vessels, to keep their blood pressure at appropriate levels. Under some circumstances, insulin may be ordered to keep blood sugar levels stable.Doctors may also order painkillers, sedatives, or low doses of corticosteroids.In some cases an induced coma is used to treat the disease.

How Does Medical Malpractice Contribute to or Cause Sepsis?

In many sepsis cases, patients have a valid medical malpractice claim if a doctor or nurse failed to prevent, diagnose, or properly treat the condition.

Sepsis is a potentially fatal condition and is becoming increasingly frequent, yet health professionals are often unable to recognize its symptoms.  It is the body’s exaggerated response to infection and, if left untreated, will lead to severe sepsis, multi-organ failure and death.  Nurses can play a vital role in identifying patients with sepsis and starting essential treatment.

If any of the following occurred, and you developed sepsis as a result, you may have a claim for malpractice:

  • Failure to recognize sepsis
  • Delay in treating the infection or sepsis
  • Failure to obtain the proper informed consent
  • Failure to recognize an infection
  • Not administering the right antibiotics
  • Not performing the right urine, blood, and wound secretion tests
  • Not providing the proper fluids
  • Not cleaning the IV lines properly
  • Failure to inform the patient properly, including when discharged

Get Help For Your Sepsis Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

Sepsis is a medical emergency, and it requires immediate medical attention. If you or your loved one developed sepsis while in a hospital, you must seek legal representation right away. An experienced sepsis medical malpractice lawyer who is knowledgeable about sepsis, septic shock, and sepsis-related death, will be able to help you proceed with your claim.

At Pushor Mitchell Lawyers, we will review your medical records and build your case while you concentrate on your recovery. Our senior Medical Malpractice lawyer, Paul Mitchell K.C. has extensive experience with sepsis medical malpractice claims. He has settled sepsis claims in the 7 figures for clients.

All of our medical malpractice cases are handled on a contingency basis, which means there is no charge to you until we make a financial recovery. If you have questions about whether you or a loved one were made ill or made worse by your medical providers, contact Paul Mitchell K.C. to schedule a free initial consultation.

Paul Mitchell, K.C. is a B.C. personal injury lawyer who has extensive experience with medical malpractice claims, and other catastrophic injury claims.  Paul has successfully concluded B.C. medical malpractice cases for amounts up to $5 million in individual cases.

For more information on this article, or for a confidential discussion of your injury claim, contact Paul Mitchell, K.C. at 250-869-1115 (direct line), or send him a confidential email at [email protected]

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