What is sepsis and why is it so dangerous?

When I meet with potential new clients about medical malpractice cases involving an undiagnosed infection, I anticipate the next chapter of the story before it is even told. The title of the chapter is “Sepsis.”

What is sepsis and why is it so dangerous?

Contrary to popular belief, sepsis itself is not an infection. Rather, sepsis happens when the body tries to fight off an infection, usually caused by hospital-acquired bacteria.

Sepsis occurs when infection-causing bacteria produce toxins that trigger the body to release cytokines, which cause inflammation. While cytokines are part of the body’s infection response, they also cause problems of their own.

Cytokines cause vasodilation, meaning that blood vessels open wider, which decreases blood pressure. They can also cause blood clots in capillaries inside vital organs. In severe cases, organs start to shut down, which doctors and nurses often describe as multi-organ system failure. When patients reach this stage of sepsis, it is called septic shock, which is fatal about half of the time.

Who is most at risk?

While sepsis can affect anyone, babies under one year old, adults over 65 years old with chronic illnesses like diabetes, and anyone with an immune deficiency are most at risk.

What should you look out for?

Sepsis often starts because of an infection, such as pneumonia or an open wound that gets infected.

People recently discharged from a hospital or facility should play close attention to any cold or infection symptoms that develop after they return home. Older adults living in nursing homes should be aware of the risk of infected pressure sores.

The sepsis signs and symptoms to be aware of include:

· A body temperature of above 101.3 degrees or below 95 degrees.

· A rapid heart rate (tachycardia).

· Difficulty breathing.

· Shivering or feeling very cold.

· Clammy or sweaty skin.

· A change in mental status (acting unusual or behaving out of character).

Medical experts agree that sepsis must be recognized and treated promptly with antibiotics. If you suspect sepsis and are hospitalized, bring it to your doctor’s attention quickly. If you’re at home, get to the doctor to get examined as soon as possible.

Medical malpractice

As a Houston, Texas, medical malpractice lawyer, I have represented numerous clients in lawsuits over sepsis misdiagnosis and delayed treatment.

In my experience, most patients who develop sepsis in the hospital have been battling an illness for days or weeks. In some of my cases, the patients were hospitalized to recover from surgical complications, like a perforated bowel or stomach. The hospitalist physicians managing their care seemed to view these patients from a “more of the same” perspective, rather than paying attention to new signs and symptoms that pointed to sepsis and working them up.

The risk of slow diagnoses and treatment is that sepsis can advance very quickly without treatment. In some situations, by the time the physicians take notice, it is too late for the patient.

We are here to help

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured or even died because of poor medical, surgical, or hospital care, then the experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Painter Law Firm, in Houston, Texas, are here to help. Click here to send us a confidential email via our “Contact Us” form or call us at 281-580-8800.


All consultations are free, and, because we only represent clients on a contingency fee, you will owe us nothing unless we win your case. We handle cases in the Houston area and all over Texas. We are currently working on medical malpractice lawsuits in Houston, The Woodlands, Sugar Land, Conroe, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Bryan/College Station, and Waco.


Robert Painter is a medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits against hospitals, physicians, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other healthcare providers. A member of the board of directors of the Houston Bar Association, he was honored, in 2017, by H Texas as one of Houston’s top lawyers. In May 2018, the Better Business Bureau recognized Painter Law Firm PLLC with its Award of Distinction.

Robert Painter
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Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.