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Sepsis and Medical Malpractice Claims: What You Need to Know

In early 2016, Statistics Canada released a startling study on the prevalence of sepsis-linked deaths in Canada. Sepsis is a medical condition in which the body’s immune system overreacts to an infection. This can cause serious organ and tissue damage that can lead to death.

In their study, the Statistics Canada authors found that during 2011, one in every 18 deaths in Canada involved sepsis, making the condition Canada’s 12th top cause of death for the year. But, as the authors note, even when sepsis doesn’t kill a patient, it can make his or her stay in the hospital longer and drive up medical costs.

Clearly, on its own sepsis can be a costly and traumatic experience. But it can also be a sign of, or be exacerbated by, medical malpractice — a medical professional’s failure to abide by the standard of care the law expects. In such cases, it is critical for the injured patient or his or her loved ones to contact a Toronto medical malpractice lawyer as soon as possible to begin the process of building a case and obtaining justice.

What is sepsis?

When bacteria, viruses, or parasites enter the human body, multiply, and cause damage, that is called an infection. The body’s immune system has an array of tools at its disposal to fight off infections and restore health. But sometimes, the immune system overreacts to an infection and begins injuring the body’s own organs and tissues. When that happens, the condition is known as sepsis.

As the statistics outlined above make clear, sepsis is a potentially fatal condition. In fact, according to the 2016 Statistics Canada study, some 30% to 50% of those who develop sepsis die from it. And more than half of all deaths caused by infectious diseases involved sepsis, either as the underlying cause of death or a contributing cause.

Common Causes of Sepsis

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), infections in the lungs, kidney, skin, and gut are often associated with sepsis. Infections involving Staphylococcus aureus (as in a staph infection), E. coli, and Streptococcus are the most frequent bacterial infections that lead to sepsis.

Statistics Canada adds infections involving C. difficile, tuberculosis, chickenpox, herpes zoster (also known as shingles), HIV, and viral hepatitis as others that are often associated with sepsis.

Ultimately, sepsis can be triggered by any kind of infection anywhere in the body, which makes it all the more important to avoid infections altogether, and to quickly identify and treat them once they develop.

Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Sepsis

According to the CDC, sepsis doesn’t have any one symptom. The Sepsis Alliance, a U.S.-based charity that seeks to raise awareness of sepsis in an effort to combat it, has developed a helpful mnemonic device that summarizes common symptoms:

  • Shivering, fever, or feeling cold
  • Extreme pain or discomfort
  • Pale or discoloured skin
  • Sleepiness or difficulty waking up
  • I feel like I might die”
  • Shortness of breath

Of course, these symptoms are also associated with other conditions, and so the CDC and the Sepsis Alliance emphasize that patients should raise the prospect of sepsis with their doctors if they suspect that it may be the cause of their symptoms.

Doctors, in turn, look for the same symptoms to help diagnose sepsis. They may also perform other tests, including blood tests, X-rays, or CT scans to confirm the cause of the symptoms or locate the underlying infection.

Once sepsis has been diagnosed, treatment generally involves attacking the infection with antibiotics while monitoring and managing the patient’s symptoms and regulating the immune system’s response. Treatment may include assisted breathing, intravenous fluids, and kidney dialysis. In some cases, surgery may be required to eliminate the infection or remove tissues damaged by it.

Medical Malpractice Claims Involving Sepsis

But what if a doctor examines a patient and fails to diagnose sepsis? Or what if doctors fail to treat it properly? Or, more frighteningly, what if the infection that triggered sepsis was caused by unsanitary conditions in a hospital, or other negligent medical care?

In such cases, a patient may have a medical malpractice claim in Ontario. Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor or other healthcare professional breaches the legal duty of care for his or her patient, and the patient is injured as a result. Not every bad medical outcome is the result of malpractice, but many are — including as many as 43,000 deaths per year in Canada.

Hiring a Sepsis Medical Malpractice Lawyer

If you or a loved one has developed sepsis while undergoing medical treatment, or suffered injuries as the result of undiagnosed or mistreated sepsis, you need to contact a medical malpractice lawyer in Ontario as soon as possible. Determining the validity of a medical malpractice claim can be a complex and time-consuming process — one often made more difficult by the significant resources available for medical professionals’ defense.

Preszler Injury Lawyers is an Ontario law firm that is committed to helping injured patients and their families recover for their injuries in medical malpractice cases of all sorts. We work hard to help our clients understand their legal rights, build a strong case against negligent healthcare providers, and obtain the compensation they deserve. Contact us today for a free consultation, and remember — you don’t pay us unless we win or settle your claim.

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