The Surprising #1 Cause of Hospital Deaths

The Surprising #1 Cause of Hospital Deaths

The number one cause of deaths in hospitals may surprise you. It is not cancer or heart disease, but rather sepsis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 3 hospitalized patients die from sepsis. [RT1] 

Sepsis is a serious and life-threatening medical condition that is often misdiagnosed by medical professionals. Sepsis is the body’s extreme response to an existing infection[RT2] . The underlying infection could be of the urinary tract, kidneys, lungs, skin or the like, and if that infection is not stopped it can cause sepsis. Almost any infection can lead to sepsis. If not treated timely, sepsis can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death. While sepsis can happen to anyone, those at most risk are adults over 65, children under 1, and people with weakened immune systems or chronic conditions (i.e. diabetes, cancer, or lung disease).

Sepsis is sometimes challenging to diagnosis[RT3]  because, in part, the patients are already ill and antibiotics taken to treat the underlying infection mask early symptoms. It is imperative, however, that sepsis is timely diagnosed and treated. The earlier the better.

The signs and symptoms of sepsis include[RT4]  a temperature (greater than 101F or less than 96.8F), a rapid heart rate (faster than 90 beats per minute), a rapid respiratory rate (faster than 20 breaths per minute), and a change in mental status. Other symptoms may include shivering, paleness, shortness of breath, confusion, difficulty waking up, and extreme pain. Two or more symptoms suggest that a person has sepsis and needs immediate medical attention.

As sepsis progresses, the person may experience decreased urination, worsening mental status, increased trouble breathing, abnormal heart functions, extreme weakness, chills due to a fall in body temperature, and a decreasing blood pressure. These are all indications that vital organs, such as the brain, heart and kidneys, are suffering. Again, urgent medical treatment is required.

Ultimately, without timely and proper medical treatment, sepsis can progress to septic shock. A very low blood pressure is an indicator of septic shock. With septic shock, blood flow to vital organs becomes impaired causing them to fail. It can also cause blood clots to form in the organs and in the arms, legs, fingers and toes – leading to different degrees of organ failure and tissue death (gangrene).

In the United States, 10% of the 1.6 million amputations performed every year are due to complications from sepsis, and the mortality rate for septic shock is about 40%. These statistics highlight the gravity of sepsis being left undetected and untreated, and why it is considered a medical emergency. However, if sepsis is caught early and aggressively treated, most people recover.

Sepsis can be diagnosed through blood tests and cultures of the body part where the infection is located. If the site of the infection is not known, x-rays, CT scans or MRIs may help in locating the source of the infection. The treatment for sepsis typically includes antibiotics, intravenous fluids, and medication to increase blood pressure. In certain cases, surgery may be required to remove the infection.

Sepsis, while very serious, is also treatable. It becomes incumbent on medical practitioners, therefore, to make a swift and proper diagnosis and treatment plan. If a medical practitioner delays or misdiagnoses a patient, the result can be fatal.

If you or a loved one have suffered because of a misdiagnosis or treatment delay of sepsis, the medical, financial, and personal hardships can be overwhelming. Consulting with a knowledgeable medical malpractice attorney can help you better understand your options.

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About The Author

A seasoned trial attorney, Attorney Wickenheiser has advocated for victims and their families injured because of medical malpractice, nursing home death, pharmaceutical liability, and product liability. She focuses her practice on representing those who have suffered catastrophic injury and has successfully negotiated numerous settlements, many over a million dollars. She has received many prestigious awards and recognitions. Attorney Wickenheiser is licensed to practice law in Massachusetts.