Sepsis can be a life threatening condition that occurs when the body has a chemical imbalance due to an ongoing infection that can result in damage to multiple organ systems. If sepsis progresses to septic shock, this will result in multiple organ failure, a drop in blood pressure, and possibly death. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention each year 1.7 million adults in America develop sepsis. Nearly 270,000 of those people die each year from sepsis, and one in three patients who die at a hospital have sepsis. Because of this it is critical for a doctor or other health care provider to be familiar with, and have the ability to diagnose the signs and symptoms of, sepsis before it becomes too serious.
An infectious disease specialist is typically the best doctor to treat sepsis. Normally you are referred to such a specialist by either a family doctor, internist, or emergency room physician. This is because they are typically the first doctors you will see when you need to be treated for sepsis. Therefore while internists, emergency room physicians, etc. may not be your primary treater for sepsis, they need to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of sepsis and diagnose that condition.
What are the signs and symptoms of sepsis? There are guidelines that have been developed to help doctors diagnose this condition. They include the quick SOFA (sepsis related organ failure assessment) or qSOFA score. Under this scoring system a patient is considered at risk if he or she has at least two of the following conditions: a respiratory rate that is greater than 22, a systolic blood pressure of 100 mg or less (the upper number on your blood pressure), or an altered mental status. Your mental status can be determined using the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS). Even if your symptoms do not definitively point to sepsis, it should at least be included in what is called a “differential diagnosis” and ruled out given it is a life threatening condition.
If you have symptoms of sepsis and your doctor does not either: include it in a differential diagnosis and rules it out; have you seen by an infectious disease doctor; or start you on broad based antibiotics as an initial treatment and you or your loved one suffer harm as a result, that doctor may be liable for that harm. Whether they ultimately are would have to be determined by medical experts.
Likewise if you have symptoms of septic shock, it is even more critical for a physician to be able to recognize and diagnose the signs and symptoms of it. Septic shock symptoms can include a confirmed infection, the need for medication to maintain an adequate blood pressure (such as greater than or equal to 65 mm hg), and high levels of acid in your blood after receiving adequate fluid replacement.
If you have sepsis or septic shock you will require close monitoring in a hospital intensive care unit, and possibly life saving measures to stabilize breathing and heart function. You will also need immediate treatment with antibiotics – initially broad spectrum antibiotics and potentially a switch to more specifically tailored antibiotics after blood tests are run. You will also need intravenous fluids and possibly vasopressors if your blood pressure remains low even after receiving fluids.
The Thistle Law Firm is experienced at handling malpractice claims in the misdiagnosis and failure to treat sepsis and septic shock. If you, a family member, or a loved one have suffered serious harm or death as a result of delayed treatment of sepsis the attorneys at the Thistle Law Firm are here to take your call at 215-568-6800.