Sepsis Is Potentially Deadly. Why Are Doctors Still Missing It?

The recent death of Oscar-winning actress, Patty Duke, has drawn attention to a dangerous medical condition known as sepsis. Despite being relatively common and potentially deadly, sepsis is often misunderstood and frequently misdiagnosed.

Sepsis is a dramatic immune response to an infection in the body. It causes inflammation throughout the body that ultimately restricts blood flow. As blood flow is being cut off, organs are cut off from essential nutrients and oxygen and begin to fail.

According to the National Institutes of Health, sepsis affects more than one million Americans every year. For 28 to 50 percent of these people, sepsis will be fatal because it isn't caught in time.

What are the symptoms for sepsis and why is it misdiagnosed so often?

What Sepsis Looks Like

Doctors fail to diagnose sepsis for several reasons, the most common being that the symptoms of sepsis may also look like something else. Doctors frequently confuse the symptoms of sepsis with the original infection. Failure to promptly diagnose sepsis can be deadly. If sepsis should have been caught, the patient may be a victim of medical malpractice.

While individually the symptoms of sepsis may resemble another sickness, taken together they should be reason for alarm. To help educate people about sepsis and what to look for, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) created the following acronym:

S ¾ Shivering, severe chills or fever

E ¾ Extreme pain

P ¾ Pale complexion or discoloration of the skin

S¾ Sleepiness and difficulty waking a person

I ¾ "I feel like I might die"

S ¾ Shortness of breath

Other symptoms may include a loss of appetite, dizziness, thirst, confusion, and overall weakness. If you, or a loved one, are recovering from surgery and are feeling worse rather than better, sepsis may be the reason. Sepsis can progress very rapidly. If not treated promptly a person can go into septic shock and die.

How Do Doctors Diagnose It?

Doctors will look for a number of symptoms including an elevated heart rate, low blood pressure, rapid or labored breathing, edema and other indications of organ dysfunction. Doctors may also look at white blood cells. A very high or very low white blood cell count indicates sepsis.

Anytime sepsis is suspected, doctors should run a blood test and begin administration of antibiotics immediately. It may take 48 hours before the presence of sepsis bacteria can be determined. Getting antibiotics into the system early is critical to survival.

Who Is Most Vulnerable To Sepsis

Anyone can get sepsis, but individuals with compromised immune systems are more susceptible to developing it. This often includes older people and infants. In addition, anyone who has serious burns or wounds, appendicitis or a significant urinary tract infection could get sepsis.

If you suspect sepsis, do not be afraid to press for a blood count, even if a doctor or other medical professional dismisses the possibility. When it comes to sepsis, you don't want to risk doctor misdiagnosis.

If you or a loved one suffered a sepsis misdiagnosis, a medical malpractice attorney can review your case and your legal options for financial recovery for the serious harm you endured.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertising.


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