As Jacksonville medical malpractice attorneys, we see many cases where people contracted sepsis at a health care facility or came to the ER with sepsis and the healthcare providers failed to diagnose it until it was too late. It’s for this reason, we at Edwards & Ragatz, thought it was important to share the truth about sepsis.
What is sepsis?
Sepsis is a problem caused by the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to an infection, which can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death. Sepsis is not well recognized, but it is actually more common to get sepsis than to have a heart attack and it is just as deadly. More than a million people in the U.S. develop sepsis each year, and more than 250,000 deaths a year are linked to it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s higher than earlier estimates—an increase the CDC attributes mainly to better reporting on the infection, as well as the growing number of older people, who are especially susceptible to sepsis.
While many cases are linked to infections acquired in hospitals, doctor offices, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities, a report out from the CDC says that almost half are community-acquired, meaning from infections people contract in their homes, schools, playgrounds, and elsewhere. Medical malpractice attorney Jacksonville Fl wants you to know that any infection can lead to sepsis.
One reason sepsis is so dangerous is that patients and even doctors often don’t recognize the problem until it’s too late, says Anthony Fiore, M.D., of the CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion and an author of the new report.
How Sepsis Harms
Sepsis often starts with a local infection, most often in the lungs, digestive tract, urinary tract, or on the skin. It usually stems from a bacterial infection, but fungal or viral infections can trigger sepsis, too.
Whenever the body develops an infection, the immune system normally kicks in, producing chemicals to fight the infection. But sometimes—either because the triggering bacteria is unusually powerful or because the person’s immune system is already weakened by other health problems—those chemicals are set loose in the bloodstream and course through the body.
Instead of just fighting the local infection, those chemicals unleashed by the immune system can cause widespread inflammation and damage tissues in the liver, kidneys, heart, and other organs. Within hours, blood clots can begin to form, and damage to blood vessels causes blood pressure to drop, which in turn slows the delivery of vital nutrients to those organs already under attack. In the final stages, the heart weakens and organs begin to fail.
Who is at Risk?
This includes people:
· With chronic diseases. Seven out of 10 people in the CDC study who developed sepsis had diabetes, lung, kidney, or liver disease, or some other chronic condition. People with those conditions are at increased risk because they are susceptible to infection.
· With conditions that have weakened immune systems.
· Who are 65 or older or younger than one year old, because they too are more prone to infection.
· Who have recently been in a hospital, nursing home, or other healthcare facility, in part because infection-causing bacteria are often common in those facilities.
How to Prevent Sepsis?
· Since most sepsis patients have some underlying health problem that requires them to have frequent contact with doctors, during those visits healthcare providers can examine to prevent infections that can turn septic (for example, ensuring that diabetics get thorough exams of their feet to check for wounds that could breed infections) and to educate people about warning signs for sepsis.
· Get vaccinated. Thirty-five percent of sepsis cases in the CDC study stemmed from pneumonia. Yet the CDC says that only 20 percent of high-risk adults under age 65 and 60 percent of those 65 and older have been vaccinated against that disease. Annual flu shots can also prevent respiratory infections that can sometimes turn septic. But only about a third of sepsis patients in the CDC study had a record of being vaccinated against the flu.
· Treat urinary tract infections promptly. A quarter of sepsis cases resulted from urinary tract infections. So it’s important to see a healthcare provider if you have warning signs of those infections—usually a painful, burning feeling when you urinate and a strong urge to “go” often—and, when appropriate, be treated with antibiotics. UTIs are also common among hospital patients, especially those who have been catheterized, so it’s extra important to watch for those infections while in the hospital.
· Clean skin wounds properly. About one in 10 sepsis cases follows a skin infection. So it’s essential to care for wounds and scrapes properly. That means washing with soap and water, cleaning out any dirt or debris, and covering wounds. And people with diabetes should make sure that they follow good foot care practices, since wounds there can often develop dangerous infections.
· Avoid infections in hospitals. Since many infections that turn septic originate in hospitals and other healthcare facilities, it’s essential that you—and your healthcare providers—take steps to avoid those infections. That means, for example, insisting that everyone who comes into your hospital room—including doctors and nurses—wash their hands every time they touch you.
How is sepsis treated?
· People with sepsis are usually treated in the hospital. Doctors try to treat the infection, keep the vital organs working, and prevent a drop in blood pressure.
· Doctors treat sepsis with antibiotics as soon as possible. Many patients receive oxygen and intravenous (IV) fluids to maintain normal blood oxygen levels and blood pressure. Other types of treatment, such as assisting breathing with a machine or kidney dialysis, may be necessary. Sometimes surgery is required to remove tissue damaged by the infection.
Watch for Warning Signs
Jacksonville medical malpractice attorneys advise if you do develop an infection, it’s important to watch for signs of sepsis. Here’s what to do:
· Know the symptoms. These include fever plus chills, shortness of breath, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, diarrhea, vomiting, rash, or pain, which many survivors describe as the worst they’ve ever felt. Disorientation or confusion can also be signs of sepsis.
· Act fast. If you have any of those symptoms, “contact a healthcare provider and say, ‘I think I have an infection and it’s really gotten worse, and I think it’s possible I could have sepsis.” If it’s after hours, either contact the provider’s on-call service or, if you feel very sick, go to the emergency room. In other words, don’t wait until morning.
· Demand attention. Healthcare providers sometimes miss sepsis, or fail to react quickly enough, says Lisa McGiffert, the director of Consumer Reports Safe Patient Project. “Patients and their advocates need to be aggressive in pushing for quick action, and there is no excuse for a hospital or emergency room to respond to sepsis slowly once it is diagnosed,” McGiffert says. “Hospitals can do a lot to prevent death from sepsis by diagnosing it early and responding with urgency.”
· Get the right treatment. Jacksonville medical malpractice attorneys cautions, if your doctor suspects sepsis, you should get treated with IV fluids and antibiotics right away. Initially, you will probably need a broad-spectrum antibiotic, which targets multiple bacteria. But your doctors should also order tests to identify the responsible bacteria and, if possible, switch you to an antibiotic that targets that specific bacteria.
· In addition, Sepsis can be extremely disorienting, and cause sleepiness. Medical malpractice attorney Jacksonville Fl can’t stress enough how important it is to have support. One person interviewed who had sepsis noted if it wasn’t for her husband, she probably would not have made it to the ER.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of a medical neglect, contact us at Edwards & Ragatz for a free consultation. (904)399-1609 or (866)366-1609. www.edwardsragatz.com