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Sepsis: spotting the signs and symptoms of a blood infection

By Sarah Walker

Following the heart-breaking Coronation Street storyline where a character must consent to his son having his foot amputated after developing sepsis, our Sarah Tipton Walker looks at this little-understood illness. 

affects 123,000 people every year and can have long term consequences. These can include physical disabilities, slower functions and difficulties with everyday life. Tragically, it kills five people every hour in the UK and is “the most preventable cause of death and disability in Europe”.

is the body’s immune response to an infection attacking its own organs and tissues. Any infection may be enough to trigger and if left untreated or ignored, it can be life threatening and can lead to total organ failure.

The difficulty with is that the symptoms are often very similar to less serious illnesses such as throat infections, the flu or a stomach bug. This means that symptoms are often overlooked, which can be a missed opportunity for an early diagnosis.

People at a high risk of include:

  • the very young (under 1 year) and older people (over 75 years) or people who are very frail
  • people who have impaired immune systems because of illness or drugs
  • people taking long term steroids
  • people who have had surgery, or other invasive procedures, in the past 6 weeks
  • people with any cuts, burns, blisters or skin infections
  • people who misuse drugs intravenously
  • people with indwelling lines or catheters
  • women who are pregnant, have given birth or had a miscarriage or termination.

Signs and symptoms of sepsis

The symptoms of are different in adults and children.

In adults, typical symptoms include:

  • Slurred words or confusion
  • Extreme shivering
  • Muscle pain
  • Severe breathlessness
  • Discoloured or mottled skin

Whereas in children, typical symptoms will include:

  • Fast breathing
  • Fits or seizures
  • Rashes that do not disappear upon application of pressure
  • Fatigue and difficult to wake

Sarah Tipton Walker , Director and Solicitor in the Clinical Negligence  department explains: “If is identified and diagnosed early, patients can often be prescribed a course of antibiotics and make a full recovery. Increasingly, we are being contacted by people where was misdiagnosed or the symptoms were not recognised. Often this can cause very serious injuries, or tragically it can be fatal.”

For more information visit:

If you have experienced a failure to diagnose sepsis or any similar problems please contact the medical negligence team at Switalskis Solicitors. To speak to a member of the team, please call us on 0800 138 0458 or send us a message via the contact form below.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice, and the law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice on their own particular circumstances.

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Sarah qualified as a Solicitor in 2001. She is a Director and Deputy Head of our Medical Negligence team.

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