Despite guidance from NICE and a commitment to improving awareness of sepsis too many people are still dying unnecessarily from the condition or living with lifelong damage.

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the body's immune system goes into overdrive as it tries to fight an infection. This can reduce the blood supply to vital organs such as the brain, kidneys, and heart. It is often called septicaemia or blood poisoning. Without treatment, sepsis can lead to multiple organ failure and death.

According to the UK Sepsis Trust , there are around 150,000 cases of sepsis in the UK each year and 44,000 deaths.

Early symptoms of sepsis include fast breathing or a fast heartbeat, high or low temperature, chills and shivering, and people may have a fever.

In some cases, symptoms of more severe sepsis (septic shock – when your blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level) can develop soon after and include blood pressure falling low, dizziness, disorientation, slurred speech, mottled skin, nausea, and vomiting.

Causes of sepsis

Sepsis can be triggered by an infection in any part of the body. The most common sites of infection leading to sepsis are the lungs, urinary tract, abdomen, and pelvis.

People at risk

Everyone is potentially at risk of developing sepsis from minor infections. However the most vulnerable include:

  • Those with a medical condition that weakens their immune system
  • People who are receiving medical treatment that weakens their immune system
  • The very young or old
  • Those who have just had surgery, or have wounds or injuries as a result of an accident.

Sepsis is particularly a risk for people already in the hospital because of another serious illness.

If sepsis is detected early and it has not affected vital organs yet it may be treated at home with antibiotics. Research shows that simple steps – such as IV antibiotics in the first hour – can reduce the risk of death by sepsis by over a third. However opportunities for early diagnosis are still being missed. If sepsis is caught and treated quickly, in most cases, there will be a full recovery with no lasting problems. Just this week there has been another report of two deaths in the media alongside a newspaper article titled “Most under-fives with high temperatures not checked properly for signs that could indicate sepsis”.

I am currently working on a couple of cases concerning sepsis that highlight the importance of catching the condition early - one involves a baby that needed an amputation because of a lack of bloody supply and the other concerns sepsis-causing the death of a man in his 30s. It appears the basic checks on people that could flag up the life-threatening condition are still not being carried out.