Missed Sepsis Diagnosis
It’s easy to take antibiotics for granted, but the infections they treat are serious medical issues. If you have an infection that goes undiagnosed or untreated, you’re at risk for developing sepsis and septic shock. Sepsis is treatable, but the longer it goes on, the more likely it can lead to septic shock and even death.
Because there’s a risk of sepsis turning into life-threatening septic shock, doctors must be on the lookout for infections that have turned into sepsis. The best way to reduce a person’s risk of permanent organ damage and death is to treat sepsis early and aggressively.
If a doctor failed to diagnose your or your loved one’s sepsis, contact an experienced Seattle medical malpractice lawyer at Menzer Law Firm right away. Sepsis is too serious a condition for a doctor to carelessly miss. We’re here to hold negligent medical providers responsible for their actions.
What Is Sepsis?
Sepsis, also known as blood poisoning, is a body’s response to a severe infection; a bacterial infection in the blood is known as septicemia. The body releases chemicals into the bloodstream to fight the infection. If those chemicals become imbalanced over a period of time, it can lead to organ damage and even death.
There’s a lot about the sepsis condition scientists don’t know yet. Doctors know that sepsis is the body’s inflammatory response to a severe infection. They also know it’s extremely serious and needs to be treated.
Anyone can develop sepsis. But certain people have a higher risk, including people 65 years or older, with chronic medical conditions (kidney disease, lung disease, diabetes, cancer), with compromised or weakened immune systems, and infants younger than one.
Symptoms of Sepsis
Signs that someone has developed sepsis include:
- A change in their mental status – confusion or disorientation
- Extreme pain or discomfort
- Fever, shivering, or feeling cold
- Shortness of breath
- Sweaty or clammy skin
- A systolic pressure (the upper number in blood pressure) reading equal to or less than 100 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg)
- A respiratory rate equal to or higher than 22 breaths per minute
A diagnosis of septic shock, which is more likely to lead to death than sepsis, requires:
- A confirmed infection;
- The necessary use of medication to maintain blood pressure equal to or greater than 65 mm Hg; and
- High levels of lactic acid in the blood after receiving adequate fluid replacement.
How Doctors Diagnose Sepsis or Septic Shock
Doctors take several steps to determine if someone has sepsis or has gone into septic shock. Your doctor will run blood tests on samples taken from two different places on your body. They’ll test for evidence of infection, blood clotting, liver and kidney function, oxygen levels, and electrolytes. Your doctor might test your urine, respiratory secretions, or wound secretions for bacteria. Your doctor also might order some type of imaging, like an X-ray, ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI, if they can’t locate the site of the infection.
When the doctor confirms you have an infection with signs of sepsis, they should under most circumstances treat you with intravenous fluids, vasopressors to increase your blood pressure, and intravenous antibiotics to fight the infection.
The medical staff should also closely monitor you for any changes. Depending on the extent of the sepsis or if you’ve gone into septic shock, doctors might administer treatments to stabilize your heart and respiratory function. In some cases, you’ll need to undergo surgery to remove a source of infection.
Was Your Sepsis Undiagnosed for Too Long?
Did you go to the doctor looking for help, only to have them miss that you had a serious infection or sepsis? If you were eventually treated for sepsis or septic shock, you might learn later that all of the signs were there earlier. Or, you might be mourning the loss of a loved one who died from sepsis or septic shock that went undiagnosed until it was too late.
When you believe your doctor had all of the information necessary to diagnose you with sepsis sooner, consider talking with an experienced medical malpractice lawyer. Doctors aren’t perfect, and they don’t have to be. But they are responsible for upholding their professional standard of care.
A doctor who fails to use all of their knowledge and skills to perform as a reasonably prudent physician in their practice area is negligent. We’ll review your medical records and enlist a medical expert to determine whether a sepsis diagnosis was negligently delayed or missed. If we find there’s good evidence of medical negligence, we’ll talk with you about pursuing a claim under Washington’s medical malpractice laws.