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Posted on 3rd October 2018

The second biggest killer in the UK is on the increase and you probably don't even know what it is

When you think of life-threatening diseases and illnesses, the chances are you will think of cancer, heart disease or strokes. Indeed, these three are in the top ranks for premature death. However, sepsis is, in fact, the UK’s second biggest killer. In the UK, there are 250,000 cases of sepsis every single year. Furthermore, over 46,000 people die from sepsis every year and over 2,000 of these are considered avoidable deaths. So, what exactly is sepsis and can you sue your doctor for a sepsis negligence claim?

What Is Sepsis?

Sepsis comes from the Greek word, sepsin, which means poison in blood. Sepsis is an adverse and extreme response to an infection that appears as inflammation. When the immune system detects a severe infection in the body, it sounds the alarm by sending chemical messages throughout the body which the produces inflammation.

Sepsis can occur throughout the body if there are bacteria in the bloodstream. However, sepsis can also be localised and only detected in one part of the body. When sepsis inflammation affects the body, it can cause blood vessels to leak or clot. It can also damage your organs and kill you.

What Is Septic Shock?

If sepsis progresses, your body can progress to septic shock. Septic shock can cause your blood pressure to drop, and your vital organs begin to shut down. Septic shock can cause all organs, such as your lungs, liver and kidneys to fail.

Are Septicaemia And Sepsis The Same?

While both terms are commonly used interchangeably, they actually refer to different things. Septicaemia is when there are bacteria present in the bloodstream that can cause sepsis. The term septicaemia and blood poisoning are similar, as having bacteria present in the blood can poison you.

Many doctors no longer use the term septicaemia as it can be confusing. Instead, a doctor may refer to bacteria in the blood as ‘bacteraemia’ and the inflammatory response as sepsis.

Yet, despite this, very few people know how deadly it is

Protect your family - find out what the signs of sepsis are

Asked out of the five conditions which was the most deadly, only 20% of 500 participants correctly identified sepsis.

Despite being three times more deadly than breast cancer, 25% of people said that breast cancer was the most deadly condition out of the following choices, when asked "which condition do you think has the highest mortality rate?".

Which condition do you think has the highest mortality rate?

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The answers given show that people under-estimate the deadliness of sepsis and over-estimate the deadliness of other conditions. Globally sepsis kills 8 million, whereas breast cancer kills 522,000 as you can see in these pie charts:

Global Mortality Rates:

Global mortaility ratesView Large

UK Mortality rates:

UK Mortality RatesView Large


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And on top of this, no one knows the signs of sepsis

Only 24% of 500 participants could correctly identify three signs of sepsis. 54% of people mistakenly thought sepsis symptoms were stroke symptoms. 11% said meningitis and 8% said heart attack:

You have severe muscle pain, slurred speech and are producing less urine than normal, which of these illnesses are you most likely to have?

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What's clear, is that sepsis awareness is low despite the fact that people tend to have some familiarity with the term.

When asked "What is sepsis?" 70% of people could identify it as “blood poisoning”. Here are the results:

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Worryingly, it is lack of awareness that lets sepsis develop into the serious condition that is robbing the UK of so many lives.

Sepsis is very treatable – but both the general public and medical professionals are missing the signs

If caught early sepsis can be treated easily with a simple course of antibiotics, but if left untreated it can become very serious and even fatal. At the moment, this happens in NHS hospitals.

Misdiagnosis or missing sepsis altogether is contributing to “excess deaths” from severe infections like sepsis.

13,000 excess deaths according to the NHS could have been avoided had signs been spotted early and different treatment administered.

Sepsis can be hard to spot and this makes knowing the signs all the more important

The NHS has acted upon sepsis figures and is currently implementing best practice standards to ensure staff are prepared for sepsis.

But one of the major challenges in sepsis identification is that it looks like lots of other illnesses and can have broad symptoms. For example, sepsis has many similar symptoms to stroke and is a well-known stroke mimic.

How to spot sepsis:

In the early stages sepsis looks a lot like all sorts of other infections, or simply a mild infection with common symptoms such as a high temperature and shivering.

This makes it all the more important to get informed so you can protect yourself and your loved ones.

The signs of sepsis:

There are three stages to sepsis development:

1. Sepsis involves fever, a high heart rate, fast breathing and evidence of an infection:

2. Severe sepsis includes the following signs:

3. Septic shock is the final, serious stage where all the symptoms of severe sepsis combine with a low blood pressure.

Who Can Contract Sepsis?

As sepsis occurs from an infection in any part of the body, it can affect any person. Even minor infections can develop into sepsis. While this means everyone is vulnerable to the second biggest killer in the UK, there are people who are more susceptible.

People who are more vulnerable to sepsis include;

  • Those with a weak immune system (such as those receive chemotherapy, or have a medical condition such as HIV)
  • Individuals with long-term health conditions
  • Pregnant women
  • Babies and children
  • Older generations
  • People who have recently had surgery, a wound or injury
  • Those who have drips and catheters attached
  • Individuals who are prone to infection.

The NHS states you are more likely to contract sepsis if you are admitted to hospital for an extended period of time, have had surgery recently or have a urinary catheter in place. While sepsis can occur from an infection in any part of the body, there are places which are common sites for infection. The lungs, urinary tract, pelvis and abdomen are common sites of infection that can lead to sepsis.

Why Does Sepsis Occur?

Ordinarily, our immune system works to fight and control infections, helping them to remain in one part of the body. However, if an infection is particularly severe or your immune system is weak, then the infection begins to spread through the blood which is when the immune system has to work much harder, and this is when the inflammation can affect the entire body.

The inflammation then damages tissue and interferes with the blood causes clots and leaks which can then lead to a dangerous drop in blood pressure.

How Does Sepsis Malpractice Occur?

As sepsis can quickly take hold of the body and begin to shut it down, it is vital for early diagnosis and treatment. According to the UK Sepsis Trust, if sepsis is diagnosed and treated within 60 minutes of the presentation of sepsis symptoms, then patients have an 80% chance of survival. However, if diagnosis and treatment are delayed until after six hours, then the survival rate drops to 30%.

With a quick diagnosis required, NICE launched a sepsis recognition, diagnosis and management guideline for medical staff to follow. When sepsis is suspected, medics should follow these guidelines. If sepsis is suspected outside of the hospital, then patients need to be referred to as a priority.

In order to determine when sepsis malpractice has taken place, it is critical to establish whether there has been a breach of duty. Sepsis can occur without any breach of duty. However, sepsis negligence can occur when sepsis is not diagnosed in a sufficient timeframe. Other examples of when there may have been a breach of duty leading to medical negligence sepsis include;

  • When there has been an inadequate initial assessment of symptoms
  • If an assessment, examination and investigation has been timely
  • If medical staff have failed to recognise the severity of the patient’s illness
  • When treatment has been inadequate, such as a lack of antibiotics
  • If there has been a delay in offering and providing treatment
  • When monitoring of vital signs is insufficient
  • If there is a delay in critical care, senior input or control of the infection.

What Is Sepsis Misdiagnosis?

The symptoms of sepsis include;

  • Fever or low body temperature
  • Chills and shivering
  • A fast heartbeat and breathing rate.

For children, there are many more symptoms to look out for which you can discover here.

Sometimes, symptoms can be missed which may lead to the further spread of infection. If the diagnosis is delayed, it can lead to death or long-term organ damage. If sepsis misdiagnosis has an adverse effect on your future health, then you may be entitled to make a sepsis negligence claim.

After sepsis, it is often difficult for people to adapt to life, especially if they have suffered an amputation or life-changing organ damage. When this occurs, patients have the right to ask for an investigation into their sepsis misdiagnosis. In some cases, patients will be eligible for sepsis compensation through a sepsis negligence claim.

Negligence Claimline are here to help you if you have suffered as a result of sepsis malpractice or sepsis misdiagnosis. Our medical negligence solicitors can help you if you want to pursue a sepsis negligence claim with our free advice and support with suing for sepsis compensation.

The data in full VIEW

Survey one:

How would you described the illness "sepsis"?

Download as a table in Excel

Survey two:

Which illness do you think has the highest mortality rate?

Download as a table in Excel

Survey three:

You have severe muscle pain, slurred speech and are producing less urine than normal, which of these illnesses are you most likely to have?

Download as a table in Excel

Sources VIEW

Further Information