A trip to the hospital almost always makes us feel better. We can get immediate relief from a multitude of symptoms, get an accurate diagnosis, and follow up with our primary care physician to ensure we adhere to a treatment plan specifically designed for whatever ailment is diagnosed. Sometimes, however, people leave a hospital much sicker than when they went in, and some people, unfortunately, never make it out of the hospital alive because of a serious condition known as “sepsis.”
What is Sepsis?
The National Institute of General Medical Sciences describes sepsis as a life-threatening medical condition caused by an overwhelming immune response to infection in which the body releases immune chemicals into the blood to combat the infection. Those immune chemicals trigger widespread inflammation, which leads to blood clots and leaky blood vessels. As a result, blood flow is impaired, and organs are deprived of the nutrients and oxygen they need. In the most severe cases of sepsis, several organs will fail, and in the most dire cases, blood pressure drops, the heart weakens, and the patient goes into septic shock, which leads to multi-organ failure and death. Sepsis is one of the main reasons that people are re-admitted to a hospital following their discharge, and it’s one of the leading causes of death in hospitals.
What Causes Sepsis?
Microbes including bacteria, fungi, and viruses cause sepsis; however, bacteria are the leading cause of this deadly condition. More often than not, doctors are unable to identify the specific cause of sepsis, and the most severe cases of it result from an infection that afflicts the entire body and is spread through the bloodstream.
Invasive medical procedures (even as simple as inserting a tube into a vein) can introduce bacteria into the bloodstream and cause sepsis. Sepsis can also come from an infection that started in one specific region of the body body, such as the lungs, skin, urinary tract, or abdomen.
Anyone can get sepsis but there are groups that are especially susceptible: infants, children, the elderly, and people who have serious injuries or medical problems such as diabetes, AIDS, cancer, or liver disease. Sepsis can be treated, but once it’s detected, it’s very often too late to stop the rapid progression of the deadly condition. Doctors typically treat people with sepsis in hospital intensive care units. Doctors will try to stop the infection, protect the vital organs, and prevent a drop in blood pressure by using antibiotics and fluids. More seriously affected patients might need a breathing tube, kidney dialysis, or surgery to remove an infection. Despite decades of research on this very specific condition, scientists have not yet developed a medicine that isolates and targets the aggressive immune response seen with sepsis.
According to the nation’s health protection agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), between one million and three million Americans are diagnosed with sepsis each year, and 15-30% of those diagnosed will die. Though sepsis primarily affects people over 65, children are also susceptible; more than 42,000 children in the United States develop sepsis each year, leading to approximately 4,400 deaths annually.
Sepsis is more common after surgery for several reasons: urinary tract infections (UTI) are more common after surgery, and these infections can lead to sepsis. Also, an incision is an opening into the body where infection can begin. Third, surgery takes a toll on the body and weakens the immune system, which can make infections more likely to occur.
If your loved one contracted sepsis while in the hospital, you may want to speak to a medical malpractice attorney. You or your loved one may have developed sepsis due to someone else’s negligence, and in that case, you may be entitled to compensation for your losses.