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What is Sepsis? And What Causes It?

Diagram of Sepsis

You may have heard the word "sepsis," or the equivalent term, "septic shock" on a medical drama, and understood instinctively by the urgency in the TV doctor's tone that sepsis is a serious matter. In fact, it can be a deadly one. What is Sepsis? Sepsis is a severe immune response to bacterial infection. The body releases chemicals into the bloodstream to fight the infection; these chemicals trigger widespread inflammatory responses in the body. The inflammation, in turn, leads to blood clots and leaky blood vessels. As a result, blood flow is impaired, and organs are starved of oxygen and nutrients, which may cause widespread organ failure.

If untreated or mistreated, sepsis is often fatal. While anyone can fall prey to sepsis, those with weakened immune systems, such as the elderly, are often at particular risk. It's unclear how many people die from sepsis annually in the United States each year, but data from the Centers for Disease Control suggest that the most conservative estimates place the figure around 146,000 per year. Other estimates place the number of annual deaths from sepsis in the U.S. at as high as 381,000. Even when it does not kill, sepsis may lead to serious, permanent injury, such as the need to amputate a limb.

Sepsis in Hospitals and Nursing Homes

Because sepsis is a response to infection that is more common in the immunocompromised, it makes sense that it would occur in hospitals and nursing homes, where there are both many infections and many people with weakened immune systems. However, while these places may be favorable environments for sepsis to develop, that doesn't mean that the risk of sepsis cannot be minimized. In fact, failure to take reasonable measures to combat sepsis may constitute medical malpractice.

Sepsis may develop when the body is made vulnerable to infection, particularly when that infection is able to easily access the bloodstream. Risk factors for sepsis include:

  • Use of intravenous lines
  • Bedsores
  • Undiagnosed infections
  • Surgical wounds, especially if antibiotics are not administered

Doctors, nurses, and other staff may unwittingly spread infection when they fail to wash their hands properly between patients, or when equipment is not properly sterilized between uses. Because sepsis can escalate rapidly, it's important for medical professionals to quickly identify and treat it, or death may result.

What to Do if a Loved One is a Victim of Sepsis in Oregon

There is no official diagnostic test for sepsis. Doctors look for common symptoms, such as increased heart or respiratory rate and fever. Blood tests may indicate that white blood cell count is abnormally high, suggesting sepsis. But because there is no lab test that will show "positive for sepsis," and because there are almost always other health issues involved, it may not be clear that sepsis was the cause of injury or death.

If you suspect that a loved one's injury or death in an Oregon hospital or nursing home was due to sepsis, you have only a limited time to make a claim. Contact an experienced Oregon medical malpractice attorney who can give you an honest evaluation of your case, and investigate further if needed.

We invite you to contact Huegli Fraser PC for an analysis of your claim. Learn more about filing an Oregon medical malpractice case:

Categories: Medical Malpractice

Blog Disclaimer

The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent medical malpractice attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.

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