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What is the difference between an infection and sepsis?

View profile for Tom Mooney
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Improvements to the fitness to practice process aim to reduce stress for doctors going through investigations

A few weeks ago, the Press Association released an alarming statement that hospital admissions for sepsis in England have more than doubled in three years. The rises relate to all age groups – including the very young.

Sepsis can be incredibly serious and can cause:

  • Amputations due to tissue death caused by interrupted flow of blood to the limbs
  • Muscle weakness
  • Breathing difficulties due to damage to the lungs
  • Kidney damage requiring dialysis
  • Chronic fatigue and lower overall physical resilience
  • Cognitive changes and disorders and memory loss

In addition, sepsis is thought to kill around 52,000 people a year in the UK. Indeed, the head of UK Sepsis Trust has warned that patients should be just as vigilant for signs of sepsis as they are for signs of meningitis.

So what is sepsis and what are the symptoms?

Sepsis is not actually an infection but a potentially life-threatening condition caused by the body's response to an infection. Infection is when viruses, bacteria or other microbes enter the body and when they start to damage the body’s cells, signs and symptoms of the infection appear as an illness and we feel unwell. In response to an infection, our body’s immune system springs into action and normally releases chemicals into the bloodstream to fight the infection. Sepsis occurs when the body's immune response to these chemicals is out of balance, triggering changes that can damage multiple organ systems. Symptoms can include tiredness, difficulty in waking, feeling cold to the touch, fast or difficulties breathing, having a rash that does not fade or showing no interest in usual activities.

The main treatment for sepsis, is antibiotics with treatment ideally starting within an hour of diagnosis to reduce the risk of serious complications or death. Any infection remaining or under-treated increases the risk of sepsis developing and it is therefore proving more difficult to treat sepsis (and infections generally) due to increasing antibiotic resistance. If you fear that you or a loved one have the signs of sepsis then you should seek urgent medical treatment.

Sadly medical practitioners can sometimes be slow to identify and respond to the signs of sepsis and this can lead to avoidable and potentially significant complications. If you believe that you have been the victim of such a mistake then we have medical negligence specialists who can advise if you have the possibility of a compensation claim. Call our specialists today on 01616 966 229