Septic shock typically strikes elderly people, the very young, or people with compromised immune systems, according to the Mount Sinai Health System. This life-threatening medical condition occurs when a patient with sepsis develops dangerously low blood pressure. If a person’s blood pressure is too low, vital organs — including the brain and heart — cannot receive enough oxygen and stop functioning.
The best way to prevent septic shock is to prevent sepsis.
How Sepsis Can Become Septic Shock
Sepsis develops when your body’s natural immune system releases too many chemicals into your blood as a result of a bacterial, fungal, or viral infection. This deluge of chemicals disrupts your body’s natural systems and can result in organ failure, blood clots, or loss of life. If a patient with sepsis does not respond to fluids and antibiotics, they may go into septic shock.
Nursing home residents with pneumonia, bronchitis, or another kind of infection must be watched closely for signs of sepsis. If sepsis becomes septic shock, patients must be treated immediately with vasopressors to elevate their blood pressure and get enough oxygen to their heart, lungs, brain, and kidneys.
The mortality rate for septic shock is high. More than 50 percent of patients with sepsis and septic shock die, and the rate is even higher if the infection is in the abdomen, according to a study in Langenbeck’s Archives of Surgery.
Signs of Septic Shock
Nursing homes are not equipped to treat patients with sepsis, let alone septic shock. That is why it is important to know the symptoms of this often-fatal condition.
Symptoms of septic shock include:
- Extremely low blood pressure, especially when standing
- Fever or extremely low body temperature accompanied by chills
- Little or no urine output
- Rapid heart rate and palpitations
- Arms and legs that look pale and feel cool to the touch
- Extreme agitation, lethargy, or restlessness
- Difficulty breathing
- Discolored skin or rash
- Decreased cognitive ability
It can be difficult to know if an elderly person’s cognitive status decreased because of septic shock or from known conditions, such as dementia. Doctors have several ways of confirming septic shock.
How Doctors Diagnose Septic Shock
In addition to checking for a confirmed underlying infection, doctors have several options to check for septic shock.
These diagnostic methods include:
- Physical examination including blood pressure, temperature, and other physical assessments
- Blood tests to detect bacteria, blood oxygen levels, abnormal acid-base balances, infections, and signs of organ failure
- Chest X-ray for signs of fluid in the lungs or pneumonia
- Urine sample, if possible, to check for infection
Doctors may order a blood culture to confirm the exact nature of the infection, but they normally start with a broad-range antibiotic to begin combatting the infection.
Treating Septic Shock
There is no specific medication or course of treatment for septic shock. The goal is to treat the infection as quickly as possible and to maintain blood pressure to avoid organ failure.
Treatment for septic shock might include:
- Ventilators to help the patient breathe
- Vasopressors to boost low blood pressure
- Antibiotics delivered intravenously
- Other medication to prevent blood clots from forming or breaking off and causing a cardiac event or stroke
- Dialysis for kidney function
- Intravenous fluids
- Sedatives to keep the patient calm and allow rest
Depending on the location of the infection, doctors may have to operate to drain fluid. Some patients develop gangrene (tissue death) in their extremities. They may need to have the affected body part (arm, leg, hand, or foot) amputated to avoid the infection spreading throughout the body.
Prevention Is Key
Septic shock may be prevented with aggressive, proactive care when a patient develops an infection. Adults over age 65 should be vaccinated for the flu, pneumonia, and shingles (chickenpox).
Nursing home staff should be aware of red flags that may indicate an infection that could lead to sepsis and septic shock.
The most common risk factors for septic shock include:
- An underlying infection, usually bacterial
- Open sores, such as bedsores or pressure ulcers, that become infected
- Patients with chronic medical conditions like cancer, diabetes, and kidney disease
- Patients who do not take or finish prescribed antibiotics for underlying infections
How Negligence May Contribute to Septic Shock
Nursing home residents should be carefully monitored if they develop an infection. However, a careless or negligent caregiver may not notice the warning signs of sepsis or septic shock until it is too late.
If your loved one lives in a nursing home and received a diagnosis of septic shock caused by negligence, you could be entitled to compensation. A lawyer with Pintas & Mullins Law Firm may be able to hold the nursing home accountable for your medical bills, final expenses, and mental anguish, among other damages.
Please call (800) 842-6336 today for a free consultation.