Signs, symptoms and causes of sepsis in children and adults

Mother using a thermometer on her child to check for sepsis

Sepsis medical negligence claims solicitors

Sepsis must be diagnosed and treated quickly. Any delay or problems with treatment could have serious implications – so doctors should recognise the warning signs of sepsis and offer the right treatment. Professional guidelines on the diagnosis and treatment of sepsis are very clear, but mistakes during treatment can and do happen. Unfortunately, medical errors can have serious and devastating consequences for patients and their families. Sepsis negligence claims normally focus on either a:

  • Delayed diagnosis of sepsis – you might have a claim if your doctor didn’t spot the signs of sepsis early enough and this made your condition worse
  • Misdiagnosis of sepsis – you might have a claim if your doctor misinterpreted your symptoms, and this caused a delay in your treatment which made your condition worse.

If you or a loved one has suffered from sepsis and you are worried about standards of care, we can help. Our specialist sepsis negligence claims solicitors understand what you’re going through, and we can help you get answers about your care. We’ll listen to your experiences, and help you find out what happened throughout your treatment.

Read on to learn more about the signs of sepsis in children and adults, including common symptoms and causes which may result from medical negligence.

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is a potentially fatal abnormal immune response to an infection. It can cause:

  • Organ failure
  • Tissue damage (which can lead to amputation)
  • Death.

Can sepsis be treated and cured?

Sepsis can progress very quickly and requires immediate medical treatment. If diagnosed promptly it can be treated with antibiotics.

Your immune system normally keeps you safe from infections. In cases of sepsis, the immune system is overwhelmed and begins to attack the body. Sepsis can cause inflammation and septic shock (dangerously low blood pressure). Inflammation can cause damage throughout your body – including damage to your organs, soft tissue and limbs.

Tragically, 5 people die as a result of sepsis every hour in the UK. One in four of all sepsis survivors suffer permanent, life-changing effects (such as the loss of a limb). So, it’s important to be familiar with the common causes and signs of sepsis – it could help save your life.

Is sepsis the same as blood poisoning?

Sepsis is sometimes referred to as ‘blood poisoning’. However, sepsis and blood poisoning are different medical conditions. Blood poisoning is when bacteria infect your bloodstream, sepsis is when your immune system overreacts to an infection.

What is the most common cause of sepsis?

Sepsis is caused by an abnormal response to any kind of infection. Common causes of infections which can trigger sepsis include:

  • Viral illness – such as a fever, cough or cold
  • Bacterial infection – this could set in after a physical injury or surgery
  • Fungal infection – such as a urinary tract infection (UTI).

Anyone can get sepsis, but it’s more common in young children, the elderly or people who have an existing problem with their immune system (‘immunocompromised’). People receiving anticancer treatments may be at risk of developing sepsis (‘neutropenic sepsis’) if they suffer an infection during their treatment, because of their weakened immune system.

What are the first signs of sepsis?

Identifying sepsis at an early stage, and getting the right medical treatment, can help prevent it from becoming life-threatening. Every case of sepsis is different, but there are some common symptoms to look out for.

Early signs of sepsis in children

Children and babies may be at particular risk of sepsis if they have a fever (or have had one in the last 24 hours), or have a very low (less than 36C) or very high temperature. 

Symptoms of sepsis in children include:

  • breathing very fast and/or a very fast heartbeat
  • fits or convulsions
  • mottled, bluish or pale skin
  • a rash which does not fade when pressed
  • very low energy or difficult to wake
  • lack of interest in anything
  • feeling abnormally cold to the touch.

Symptoms of sepsis in children under five years include:

  • not interested in feeding 
  • has not wanted a drink for 8 hours or more
  • difficulty breathing – may make ‘grunting’ noises
  • is floppy
  • vomiting repeatedly 
  • hasn’t had a wee/wet nappy for 12 hours.

If your child is poorly, and has a fever (or has had one in the last 24 hours) or low temperature, The Sepsis Trust UK advises parents to call 999 and ask: could it be sepsis? 

Symptoms of sepsis in the elderly

Symptoms of sepsis in adults and the elderly include:

  • slurred speech
  • confusion
  • severe shivering or muscle pain
  • passing no urine for a day
  • severe breathlessness
  • feeling like you’re going to die
  • fast heartbeat and/or fast breathing
  • an abnormally high or low temperature 
  • mottled or discoloured skin.

Having just one, or more, of these symptoms could be a sign of sepsis. The NHS has published a useful list of symptoms of sepsis in babies, children, adults and the elderly.

What are the early signs of septic shock?

Septic shock is a particularly severe form of sepsis which causes dangerously low blood pressure. Symptoms of septic shock include:

  • feeling dizzy, nauseous or faint
  • losing consciousness (fainting)
  • diarrhoea
  • vomiting
  • cold, clammy or mottled skin.

All content is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor, any other health care professional or for the legal advice of your own lawyer. Tees is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made by a user based on the content of this site. Tees is not liable for the contents of any external internet sites listed, nor does it endorse any service mentioned or advised on any of the sites. Always consult your own GP if you're in any way concerned about your health and your lawyer for legal advice.

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