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CDC declares sepsis to be a medical emergency

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released an eye-opening report in which it declared sepsis, a condition that the agency said is responsible for over 258,000 fatalities per year, a medical emergency.

What makes sepsis so especially problematic, say experts, is that many Americans are otherwise unaware of its extreme danger. Indeed, the Sepsis Alliance has determined that fewer than 50 percent of Americans know what the condition actually is despite the fact that it was the cause of death of such high-profile figures as Jim Henson, Patty Duke and, most recently, Muhammad Ali.

In recognition of this reality and the role played by failures to diagnose, today's post will take a closer look at the condition.

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening complication brought on by an infection. Specifically, when the body is fighting an infection, it will release chemicals into the bloodstream. These chemicals, in turn, can cause inflammatory responses throughout the body that can damage multiple vital organ systems, even causing them to shut down.

The CDC indicated that pneumonia, kidney infections, gut infections and skin infections were among the common illnesses most likely to result in the onset of sepsis. It also reported that, contrary to popular belief, sepsis typically begins outside of the hospital.

What are the symptoms of sepsis?

Some of the more common symptoms of sepsis include:

  • Elevated heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever or chills
  • Confusion/disorientation
  • Extreme discomfort/pain
  • Abnormal white blood cell count
  • Sweating/clamminess

Who's most at risk of developing sepsis?

The CDC identified seniors (age 65 and up), infants (less than one year), those with chronic health conditions and/or compromised immune systems as being the most at risk of developing sepsis. However, they also cautioned that it can still develop among healthy infants, children and adults.

Can sepsis be treated effectively?

Yes, but the CDC stated that time is truly of the essence.

Those who receive treatment such as antibiotics and fluids early enough -- sometimes within hours of a diagnosis -- have a good prognosis. However, statistics show the mortality risk increases by 25-30 percent if the sepsis is diagnosed as severe and 40-70 percent if septic shock is diagnosed.

Where do missed diagnoses come into play?  

While it would seem like sepsis would be a relatively straightforward diagnosis given the symptoms outlined above, the CDC found that as many as 72 percent of patients diagnosed with the condition had recently been seen by a physician or nurse.

Experts indicate that part of the problem is that there is no test for sepsis, and that not everyone shows the same symptoms or responses.

Nevertheless, the CDC's report urged physicians to be vigilant, running the necessary tests whenever sepsis is suspected and, if so, taking immediate action.

Consider speaking with a skilled legal professional to learn more about your rights and your options if you've been seriously injured or lost a loved one due to what you believe was medical malpractice.

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