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I was diagnosed with sepsis! What is it? Is it dangerous?

Like most people here in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, you probably learned at some point during your school age years about how your body fights invaders. Your immune system is constantly on the lookout for bacteria, parasites, fungi and viruses. If your body detects one of these invaders, it responds by fighting it in an attempt to stave off an infection.

If you do end up contracting some sort of infection, your immune system responds to fight it off, but it may not be able to do so alone. Your doctor may prescribe a course of treatment to help your body do its job. For many people, that is the end of the crisis, and your body heals. However, in some cases, your immune system turns against your body, which signifies the onset of sepsis.

Why did my infection turn into sepsis?

First, you need to know that sepsis is not an infection. An infection could lead to sepsis. Researchers continue to investigate how this condition develops, but at present, no one is 100 percent sure why it happens. However, they do know some things about it that may help.

Some people are at greater risk of sepsis, such as those with chronic illnesses, the old, the young and those with compromised immune systems. For example, if you underwent a surgical procedure and contracted an undiagnosed infection, you may end up with sepsis due to the fact that the surgery weakened your immune system. In the alternative, something as simple as a paper cut that became infected could also lead to sepsis. If you suffer from diabetes, you may also end up with sepsis.

Just because you have an infection does not mean that you will contract sepsis as well. However, if you fall into a high-risk group, your doctor should take extra precautions to ensure that this doesn't happen.

What symptoms should my doctor look for?

Other than an existing infection, your doctor should look for the following symptoms to determine whether you need additional testing to confirm or deny sepsis:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Extreme pain or discomfort
  • Pale or discolored skin
  • Shivering, very cold or fever
  • Feeling like you might die
  • Sleepiness, confusion or difficult to awaken

If you received a diagnosis of sepsis, you more than likely experienced one or more of these symptoms. However, the situation can progress into severe sepsis if not caught early enough. Severe sepsis includes the above symptoms, plus the following additional ones:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • No or low urine output
  • Changes in mental status
  • Abnormal liver tests

Severe sepsis nearly always requires a stay in the intensive care unit and up to 40 percent of patients in this stage fail to survive. If your condition moves beyond severe sepsis into septic shock, you also experience a dangerous drop in blood pressure. Make no mistake, sepsis can threaten your life or cause you to suffer from lasting effects. Half of all sepsis survivors suffer from post-sepsis syndrome that can be debilitating.

What happens if your doctor missed the early signs of sepsis?

If your doctor failed to come to the correct diagnosis of sepsis early on, and you ended up in the ICU on the brink of death, you may be the victim of medical malpractice. If you are reading this, then you survived the ordeal, but you could suffer from debilitating issues that change how you live forever. You may consider pursuing compensation for the financial losses and other damages you experienced as a result.

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