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Patients Need to Know: What is Sepsis?

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo Plotkin & Hellman LLP

Medical professionals have known about sepsis for years, even if they didn’t always agree on what to call it. Sometimes called blood poisoning, physicians did not always have effective treatment plans in place. Even with today’s modern medicine, thousands of people die because of sepsis. In the United States, researchers believe that sepsis kills over 200,000 patients every year and is fatal to 30 percent of the people who become inflicted, yet many patients have never even heard of it.

Sepsis is a reaction by the body to an infection. Infections for the most part remain localized conditions – that is only one part of the body is impacted, and the body can usually fight the infection on its own. In sepsis patients, the infection spreads rapidly and aggressively through the bloodstream to major organs, requiring urgent medical care. The infections can come from post-surgical wounds, or other more common means, such as urinary tract infections or pneumonia.

Patients that are receiving treatment or medication that weaken their immune systems are especially vulnerable. The very old and the very young frequently contract sepsis, as do those undergoing chemotherapy. Additionally, more bacteria are becoming resistant to treatment due to the misuse of antibiotics. The bacteria spread rapidly throughout the body, which can result in amputations or death for the patient.

Symptoms & Treatment of Sepsis

Part of the challenge that doctors and patients face is the relative unknown nature of the illness. Lack of awareness can cause patients to delay in seeking treatment. Common symptoms include a high fever, extreme confusion, low blood pressure, chills, shaking and a spotted rash.

Medical professionals continue to search for new methods of combating sepsis. The treatment may start with antibiotics, depending upon the type of infection present. Sepsis patients will need hospitalization, and may spend time in the intensive care unit. Each hour is critical to survival, and early diagnosis is crucial to creating an effective treatment plan. According to Dr. James O’Brien, critical care specialist at Ohio State University Medical Center, for every hour that passes without treatment, the survival rate drops eight percent.

With every moment being critical to the patient’s ability to recover, hospitals are under increased pressure to accurately diagnose and treat the infection. However, testing to determine the type of infection present can be extremely time-consuming. If you have concerns about the care you received by medical professionals, contact an experienced attorney in your area to discuss any potential malpractice claims you may have.

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