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Sepsis: What You Need to Know

It’s a condition which kills 44,000 people each year and affects many more, but until recently, awareness of sepsis was alarmingly low.

Notoriously hard to spot, even those in the medical profession can struggle to diagnose the deadly infection. Sepsis can be treated with antibiotics if caught early enough. Tragically, that isn’t always the case and the result means that we frequently receive calls from upset relatives struggling to understand what has gone wrong and why.

Most recently, Coronation Street has brought sepsis to the public’s attention in a heartrending storyline which has seen little Jack Webster forced to undergo a below the knee amputation to survive, after developing sepsis following a grazed knee. It will have made difficult viewing for any parent and now  we must ensure that we don’t lose that focus and continue to raise awareness so more people are able to spot the signs, seek treatment immediately and ultimately, increase their chances of survival and/or a better outcome. That’s why we’re proud to sponsor the UK Sepsis Trust this year and will be supporting its ‘Streets Against Sepsis’ campaign.  

What is sepsis?

Sepsis – also known as blood poisoning – happens when the immune system overreacts to an infection or injury, often something as seemingly innocuous as a minor cut, burn or graze. The infection attacks the body’s organs and tissues and is incredibly fast to develop, meaning it can kill in just hours if left untreated so every minute is vital.

The presentation of sepsis can be similar to flu, gastroenteritis or a chest infection, which is why the initial diagnosis can be wrong in so many cases.

According to the UK Sepsis Trust, sepsis kills five people in the UK every single hour. Of those who survive, one in four are left with permanent life-changing injuries.

How can I spot the signs?

The number one rule if you suspect it’s sepsis is just ask: “Could it be sepsis?”. If you or anyone you know develops any of the following warning signs, you must seek medical assistance urgently:

  • Slurred speech or confusion
  • Extreme shivering or muscle pain
  • Passing no urine (in a day)
  • Severe breathlessness
  • It feels like you’re going to die
  • Skin mottled or discoloured

In children, a fever or a very low temperature – or a fever in the last 24 hours – could be an indication of sepsis. The charity also urges people to look out for:

  • Breathing very fast
  • Has a fit or convulsion
  • Looks mottled, bluish or pale
  • Has a rash that does not fade when you press it
  • Is very lethargic or difficult to wake
  • Feels abnormally cold to touch
  • Little ones under five who are not feeding, repeatedly vomiting or haven’t passed urine for 12 hours

Surviving sepsis

People who survive sepsis may still be left with life-changing injuries, both physical and psychological. Survivors complain of symptoms including lethargy, muscle weakness, breathlessness, chest pains, insomnia and repeated infections. All this is known as Post Sepsis Syndrome (PSS) and can last for between six and 18 months or sometimes longer.

As with sepsis itself, the signs of PSS may not always be recognisable; the UK Sepsis Trust provides an excellent booklet that people can take with them when they go to see their GP. The charity also has a dedicated telephone line manned by trained nurses who can offer help and advice on 0808 800 0029.   

The nature of sepsis and the speed with which it develops can leave many people feeling like they haven’t been given the right treatment or support. If you or a loved one have concerns you should speak to the medical professionals and if you wish to make a complaint they can signpost you to the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS). If you feel that something has gone seriously wrong then you may also wish to seek independent legal advice.

For more information on any of the above you can visit the UK Sepsis Trust website


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