Challenges Of Diagnosing Sepsis And Treatment Available

Sepsis is a severe illness that occurs when a bacterial infection enters the bloodstream. The blood circulates the bacteria to all parts of the body, where they can easily infect major body organs, including the brain. Once sepsis occurs, it can be difficult to treat, and the condition is often fatal.

At Maples, Nix & Diesselhorst, our compassionate Oklahoma City nursing home abuse attorneys have experience handling many cases in which an elderly person suffered injury or illness as a result of medical abuse, neglect or a systemic sepsis infection. Our lawyers are here to help; contact us today at 800-539-0652 for a free, confidential consultation.

Sites Of Infection

Because elderly patients often have suppressed immune systems, they are at a higher risk for sepsis than a younger, healthy adult would be. Common places for a sepsis infection to begin include the following:

  • The kidneys, due to an untreated urinary tract infection or pyelonephritis
  • The bowel, due to peritonitis
  • The liver or gall bladder, due to an untreated or aggressive infection
  • The lungs, during a bout of bronchitis or pneumonia
  • The skin, especially if cellulitis is present
  • The brain, due to a meningitis infection

Common sites of infection that can lead to sepsis in medical facilities include places where an IV or catheter is inserted, surgical incisions, and wound drainage systems. It is crucial that these be kept scrupulously clean, that they be checked regularly, and that only sanitized equipment be used.

In addition to these, elderly patients in nursing homes are also at a higher risk of sepsis due to bedsores. Bedsores occur when a part of the body is pressed against the bed or a chair for an extended period of time, making them a common risk among people who are bedridden or must rely on wheelchairs. The longer a bedsore is left untreated, the greater the risk of infection.

Diagnosing Sepsis

Symptoms of sepsis are sometimes difficult to pinpoint, since they mimic the symptoms of many other conditions. Common symptoms include fever, chills, difficulty breathing, rapid heart rate, confusion or disorientation, and rash.

The sooner sepsis is diagnosed, the better chance the patient has of recovering. Sepsis infections are usually diagnosed with a blood test. However, patients who are already on antibiotics may produce a false negative on a sepsis blood test. To help ensure that a diagnosis does not miss a sepsis infection, other tests may also be used. These include tests of blood gases, kidney function tests and tests for white blood cell counts. The specific tests used may depend on where a suspected sepsis infection is most likely to have started.

Treating Sepsis

Sepsis treatment typically takes place in the hospital — often, in an intensive care unit (ICU). Patients receive large doses of antibiotics via IV to fight the body-wide infection sepsis causes. Oxygen, fluids and medications to keep blood pressure up may also be administered. Some patients also respond well to treatment with powerful anti-inflammatory medications, like corticosteroids. These are often administered via an IV as well.

In some cases, kidney dialysis may be used to help clear the body of infection. If infection began at an injury or surgical site, like a wound or a bedsore, additional surgery may be required to clear that site of infection.

Sepsis infections have a high rate of death, especially among patients who have weakened immune systems or an underlying chronic illness. Among elderly patients, the body may not be able to handle the antibiotic treatment. The longer a sepsis infection goes without being treated, the lower the patient's chances of recovery, regardless of how healthy the patient was to start. The best treatment for sepsis is prevention.

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