Can You Spot the Early Warning Signs of Sepsis?

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Can You Spot the Early Warning Signs of Sepsis?

Having a good understanding of sepsis is essential for anyone wishing to avoid the serious consequences of this potentially life-threatening condition. However, at present, many people may be unaware of how to spot the early warning signs for sepsis, leaving themselves potentially vulnerable.

Without timely treatment, sepsis can lead to organ failure and death, which means it should always be considered a medical emergency. Being able to recognise sepsis symptoms in adults and children can therefore be lifesaving knowledge.

In this blog post, we will discuss what sepsis is, the early warning signs in both adults and children and who is most at risk, as well as offer advice on what to do if you or a loved one is experiencing the symptoms of sepsis.

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is an abnormal severe and potentially fatal response to an infection by the body's immune system. It occurs when the immune system overreacts to an infection and starts attacking the body's own organs and tissue; this leads to widespread inflammation, which progresses to organ damage, organ failure, and ultimately death if left untreated.

According to stats from the UK Sepsis Trust:

  • There are at least 245,000 cases of sepsis in the UK every year
  • Of these, up to 48,000 people die of sepsis in the UK annually
  • Nearly 80,000 suffer life-changing after-effects
  • This means sepsis is as common as heart attacks, and kills more people than breast, bowel and prostate cancer combined
  • On a worldwide basis, it is estimated that 11 million people die of sepsis every year, among 49 million cases

These statistics show just how prevalent and dangerous severe sepsis can be, and how important it is to ensure that as many people as possible are aware of its life-threatening nature. Only by increasing awareness of the symptoms can we ensure that as many people as possible receive early sepsis treatment, protecting them from the devastating effects that severe sepsis can have.

What are the early warning signs of sepsis in adults?

One of the most challenging aspects of recognising the symptoms of sepsis is that many of them are fairly similar to those associated with other conditions. Sepsis symptoms are often mistaken for flu, gastroenteritis or a chest infection, and it can be difficult to recognise sepsis for what it is until it is too late.

In order to help people recognise the symptoms of sepsis, the UK Sepsis Trust has put together a memorable way of remembering them:

  • Slurred speech or confusion
  • Extreme shivering or muscle pain
  • Passing no urine all day
  • Severe difficulty breathing
  • It feels like you are going to die
  • Skin discolouration or blotchy skin

Other potential symptoms of sepsis include low body temperature, fast breathing, feeling dizzy and extreme pain.

Someone with sepsis may not necessarily develop all of these symptoms, but if you or someone you know develops any of them, it is important to seek medical attention straight away. Even if you are not sure whether it is sepsis or not, it is always better to have it checked to make sure you receive the right treatment as early as possible.

If left untreated, you are at risk of developing septic shock, which is the most severe form of sepsis. When you enter septic shock, your blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level due to damage to your blood vessels, meaning your blood is unable to supply oxygen to your vital organs. This is the point at which the condition becomes life-threatening, so it is important to seek treatment before septic shock takes hold.

What are the early warning signs of sepsis in children?

Another difficulty associated with spotting this condition is that children tend to exhibit different sepsis symptoms than adults. If you are looking after a child and they demonstrate any of these symptoms, they could potentially be early signs of sepsis:

  • Lethargic and difficult to wake
  • Feels abnormally cold, or is experiencing a high temperature similar to a fever
  • Rapid breathing and heart rate
  • Pale, bluish or mottled skin
  • Seizures and convulsions
  • A skin rash that does not fade when you press down on it

Additionally, if the child is under the age of five, you should also look out for these symptoms:

  • Refusing to eat
  • Vomiting repeatedly
  • No urine passed in the last 12 hours

The UK Sepsis Trust's figures show that around 2,000 children a year develop sepsis, and severe sepsis can lead to life-changing outcomes. This is why it is vital to spot signs of sepsis and ensure they receive early treatment to offer the best chance of avoiding a trip to an intensive care unit.

In order to help parents to identify the potential symptoms of sepsis in their children, JMW Solicitors joined forces with the UK Sepsis Trust to create a video and poster to raise awareness of the condition, and to help you spot the early warning signs that lead to sepsis:

What should you do if you spot the signs of sepsis?

If you suspect that you or someone else is experiencing symptoms of sepsis, it is crucial to seek medical treatment immediately. Severe sepsis is a life-threatening condition that can progress rapidly, so early intervention is essential for improving outcomes.

Never ignore any potential early symptoms of sepsis - if you notice them, call 999 straight away, or go to hospital immediately and attend the A&E department. Even if you are very unsure about the symptoms, it is best to at least call 111, who will be able to tell you what to do, arrange a conversation with a doctor or nurse, and call an ambulance for you if necessary.

Remember that it is always better to be safe and get evaluated if you are unsure; even if it is not sepsis, the safest thing is to rule it out as soon as possible. 

Who is most at risk of sepsis?

Everyone is potentially at risk of sepsis, as all it takes is an immune system overreaction to infections for the condition to take hold. However, certain groups have more risk factors for sepsis than others, including:

  • Babies under the age of one, particularly those that have been born prematurely, or whose mother had an infection while pregnant
  • Elderly people over 75
  • People with certain chronic diseases such as diabetes, kidney disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • People with weakened immune systems, such as those undergoing chemotherapy or who have recently undergone surgery or an organ transplant
  • Women who have just given birth, or who have had a miscarriage or abortion

People with these risk factors for developing sepsis should take extra precautions to prevent infections that could lead to sepsis. This means washing hands regularly, carefully cleaning any wounds they sustain, and keeping up to date on their vaccinations. It also means making sure they correctly take any antibiotics they are prescribed, including finishing the complete course of treatment as directed by their doctor.

How is sepsis treated?

When you have been diagnosed with sepsis, it is vital that you receive treatment as soon as possible in order to avoid septic shock. The primary treatment is usually broad-spectrum antibiotics to target the underlying infection, which should be administered within one hour of reaching the hospital.

Once the specific type of bacteria causing the infection is identified, doctors may switch from broad-spectrum antibiotics to more specifically targeted therapies. The choice of therapy will depend on the severity of the condition and the underlying cause.

Treatment options may include:

  • 24-hour treatment provided in an intensive care unit
  • Intravenous fluids to maintain blood pressure and prevent organ damage
  • Medication to raise blood pressure if you are at risk of septic shock
  • Oxygen therapy to provide adequate oxygen supply to organs and tissue
  • Corticosteroids sepsis to reduce inflammation
  • Painkillers and other medicines to alleviate pain, fever and other symptoms
  • In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the source of the infection

Even after the initial risk of septic shock has passed, you are likely to be in a fragile state after recovering from sepsis symptoms, which may require you to stay in hospital for several weeks.

How well do people recover from sepsis?

Longer-term recovery from sepsis will vary greatly depending on the individual circumstances. Some people may recover fully with no long-term complications, while others might experience lasting effects or require ongoing treatment.

Factors that influence the recovery process include:

  1. Early diagnosis and treatment - prompt identification and appropriate treatment of sepsis are crucial for a better outcome. The faster the treatment begins, the higher the chances of a full recovery.
  2. Severity of sepsis - the severity of the sepsis case can impact the recovery process, with more severe cases of septic shock potentially causing lasting complications or having a higher risk of mortality.
  3. Age - older adults and young children are more susceptible to sepsis and may have a harder time recovering from it. Their immune systems might not be as robust, and they may have other health conditions that complicate recovery.
  4. Underlying health conditions - people with chronic diseases, such as diabetes or kidney disease, may face a more difficult recovery. This is especially the case for those with a medical condition that causes weakened immune systems, as this makes it harder for the body to fight off infections.
  5. Organ dysfunction - sepsis can lead to organ failure or dysfunction. The more severe the organ damage, the longer and more challenging the recovery process may be.

Some individuals who recover from sepsis may experience post-sepsis syndrome, which may affect their long-term physical and mental status. They may experience symptoms such as fatigue, muscle weakness, memory problems, and depression or anxiety, and may also be more susceptible to other illnesses.

The key point to remember when recovering from sepsis is not to rush yourself. Sepsis takes a serious toll on the body, so it is important to be patient with your recovery, prioritising gentle exercise, regular sleep, and vigilance about preventing further infections. If you feel you need to ask your employer for changes to your working schedule while you are recovering, do not be afraid to do so.

By taking the right steps to recognise sepsis symptoms early and making sure that it is treated promptly, those affected by this serious condition will have the best possible chance of a full recovery.

Talk to us

If you, or a loved one, have suffered from sepsis that could have been avoided, our solicitors can help establish whether you are entitled to make a claim.

To speak to a member of our friendly and understanding team about your potential claim, simply call us today on 0345 872 6666. If you would prefer for us to contact you, simply leave your details via our online enquiry form.

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