Signs of sepsis are often missed until it’s too late

Sepsis, recently designated as a "medical emergency" situation by the CDC, can be treatable, but is often missed by doctors.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recently declared sepsis to be a "medical emergency" situation, but reports that doctors and nurses often miss or misconstrue the warning signs until it's too late for the patient. According to the CDC, an estimated 250,000 people die each year from complications of sepsis, and U.S. hospitals, clinics and medical care networks spend approximately $23.6 billion annually fighting it.

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is the immune system's overzealous response to fighting a localized infection. Essentially, the body acquires an underlying infection (commonly involving the lungs, urinary tract or digestive system, or at the site of a recent injury or surgery, but it can come from anywhere) that gets into the bloodstream. The body's immune system kicks into "overdrive," sending a potent immune response aimed at trying to fight off the infection that is now spreading throughout the body. Since the immune system is much better at targeted strikes, it is very taxing on the body to try and fight something systemic.

The extra immune effort causes a wide range of symptoms from person-to-person, which is part of why it can be difficult to diagnose. These include:

  • High fever
  • Low body temperature (that drops lower as the patient's condition worsens)
  • An area of skin discoloration, temperature differential or swelling (usually after an injury or post-operatively)
  • Low blood pressure
  • High heart rate
  • Elevated respiration
  • Clammy, cold skin, even with a fever
  • Very high or very low white blood cell counts

There is no standard test for sepsis, which is another part of what makes it so difficult to diagnose, but it is critical that treatment begin quickly in order to save the patient's life: between 28 and 50 percent of people who develop sepsis die from it. That number climbs even higher if the sepsis develops into a condition known as "septic shock." For every hour that you forego targeted treatment for septic shock, the chances of survival decrease by 7.6 percent.

The CDC and other national health organizations hope that when patients understand the risk factors for and the warning signs of sepsis, they can seek treatment sooner, increasing their chances of survival and recovery. Even so, if doctors and nurses miss the warning signs, or themselves aren't educated about the dangers of sepsis and septic shock, it is the patients who will pay the price. Many emergency rooms around the country have sepsis treatment protocols in place, but primary care physicians, pediatricians, orthopedists and others who don't often collaborate with emergency care professionals miss the signs all too often.

If you have developed complications from a missed sepsis diagnosis because of the inattention or negligence of a doctor or nurse - or you have tragically lost a loved one - you may be able to bring a legal claim for malpractice. To learn more about your legal rights, contact the experienced attorneys at The Donahey Law Firm. They serve patients throughout Ohio and are available to answer your questions anytime. Call them at 866-918-5886 or send an email today.