The leading cause of death in American hospitals may surprise you. It isn’t heart disease, cancer or anything similar. It’s sepsis, an overwhelming immunological response to infections, usually bacterial. Sepsis is behind as many as 35% of all hospital deaths in this country.
Although the infections that lead to sepsis are often acquired outside the hospital, the reality is that many people who are “going septic” have their conditions ignored by doctors and nurses until the odds of survival sharply decline. With a condition like sepsis, that’s usually only a matter of hours — since the odds of dying from the disease rise by about 8% every hour the patient goes untreated.
What are the signs that sepsis may be taking hold of your hospitalized loved one? Here are the symptoms that nurses and doctors should never ignore:
- Fevers, shivering and complaints from the patient about feeling unreasonably cold
- Pain, especially when the patient describes it as “severe”
- Unusual paleness or discolored skin, especially at the site of any known infection
- Shortness of breath or hypoxia (low blood oxygen levels)
- Sleepiness that the patient can’t seem to overcome
- Confusion, hallucinations or an otherwise altered mental state
- The patient says that they feel like they are dying
While sepsis tends to attack people who already have compromised immune systems, anybody can develop it — including otherwise healthy adults and children. Anyone who suffers sepsis is in for a long, difficult recovery — and many will die.
If sepsis played a role in your loved one’s injuries or death and you think that the hospital or doctor could have done more, don’t guess: Talk to an experienced advocate about the possibility of a medical malpractice claim.