Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening condition triggered by an infection. It is the most common cause of death from infection despite advances in medicine. Sepsis is normally caused by an infection such as pneumonia or flu. Notably, some people are more susceptible to developing sepsis than others, for instance the elderly, young or individuals who have undergone surgical procedures.
When in sepsis, the body’s immune system goes into overdrive following an infection, which can lead to damage of tissue and organs. It can cause inflammation, swelling and blood clotting. This can lead to a significant drop in blood pressure, which means the blood supply to vital organs such as the brain, heart and kidneys is reduced.
If sepsis is not treated in a timely manner, it can lead to organ failure and even death.
It is estimated that, in the UK, more than 100,000 people are admitted to hospital with sepsis and around 37,000 will be fatal cases.
What are the symptoms of sepsis?
There are a number of common symptoms that are visible during the early stages of sepsis and these include:
• High temperature
• Rapid heartbeat
• Rapid breathing
In cases of more severe sepsis symptoms may include:
• Feeling dizzy or faint
• Confusion or disorientation
• Nausea and vomiting
• Cold, clammy and pale or mottled skin
How do you treat sepsis?
An early diagnosis of sepsis is essential in order to obtain the correct treatment. It is claimed that around 13,000 lives could be saved each year by better treatment methods. Treatment of sepsis varies depending on the site and cause of the initial infection, the organs affected and the extent of any damage.
If your sepsis is detected at an early stage and has not affected your vital organs then it is possible to receive treatment at home with antibiotics. Most people will make a full recovery from sepsis following this.
If the sepsis is severe or you develop septic shock (when your blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level), you will need emergency hospital treatment and may require admission to an intensive care unit (ICU). ICUs are able to support any affected body functions, such as breathing or blood circulation, while the medical staff focus on treating the infection.
As a result of problems with vital organs, people with severe sepsis are likely to be very ill and up to four in every 10 people with the condition will die. Septic shock is even more serious, with an estimated six in every 10 cases proving fatal.
However, if identified and treated quickly, sepsis is treatable and in most cases leads to full recovery with no lasting problems.
Management of sepsis after admission to hospital is popularly known as the ‘sepsis six’. This involves six elements, three treatments and three tests, which should be initiated by the medical team within an hour of diagnosis.
• Giving antibiotics
• Giving fluids intravenously
• Giving oxygen if levels are low
• Taking blood cultures to identify the type of bacteria causing sepsis
• Taking a blood sample to assess the severity of sepsis
• Monitoring your urine output to assess severity and kidney function
What are the long term effects of sepsis?
Many patients will go on to make a full recovery but may need many months of rehabilitation. In severe cases a patient can suffer permanent organ damage. This can mean a lifetime of dialysis, medication or even memory and concentration problems. To stop the spread of the infection or as a result of low blood pressure to the body’s extremities during the infection, a patient may have needed an amputation.
Even if the patient has made a full physical recovery the psychological impact can be life changing. They may suffer from anxiety and stress after leaving hospital. Depression is not uncommon after such a traumatic illness and some patients may go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder.
Can you claim compensation in cases of sepsis?
If you believe that you or a loved one has received poor treatment for sepsis, you may be eligible to pursue a claim for clinical negligence. There are a number of circumstances in which a possible compensation claim could be made:
• If symptoms were not recognised and the sepsis was misdiagnosed
• If there was a delay in diagnosing sepsis
• The treatment and care given was not appropriate to treat sepsis
• The patient’s medical history or pre-existing conditions were ignored
How much compensation can you expect for sepsis claim?
The amount of compensation a person receives will depend on many factors, such as the severity of the physical injuries (e.g. incontinence, amputation or paralysis), psychological and emotional trauma and anxiety, medical expenses incurred, pain and practical impact on the person’s social and financial life, and future care needs.
It is important to remember that the value of compensation is based upon what injury was caused to the patient by the delay in sepsis diagnosis and treatment, over and above what they would have suffered had the patient been diagnosed and treated appropriately.
Each individual case is different and the impact on a person’s life – and their family and friends – will be unique. Some patients will claim compensation for thousands of pounds, while a more severely affected sepsis patient will require compensation that can amount to millions of pounds to enable them to cope with the aftermath of the tragedy.