Do Antibiotics Increase the Risk of Sepsis?

3 Min Read

Blood pressure gaugeSepsis is a life-threatening condition where the body’s immune system overreacts to infection. It can harm vital organs including the heart, brain and kidneys. Signs and symptoms include fever, an increased heart rate, rapid breathing and confusion. It must be managed urgently, usually by admission to Intensive Care to support breathing and blood supply and by finding and removing the source of infection.

This is a very serious condition which causes 44,000 deaths each year according to The UK Sepsis Trust

Some people who survive suffer serious conditions such as brain injuries and amputations.

Unfortunately there is a lot we do not know about why some people develop sepsis. Recent research from the USA may help. It suggests that use of antibiotics in hospital can increase the risk of sepsis once patients return home. The study was conducted at the CDC in Atlanta. It found that antibiotics altered the ‘microbiome’ – the balance of small organisms in our bodies. We depend on these organisms to protect us against germs, break down food, produce energy and produce vitamins. As well as destroying harmful bacteria, antibiotics can harm some of the other organisms we need. The longer patients had antibiotics in hospital, the higher their risk of developing sepsis later.

This does not of course mean that using antibiotics is necessarily the wrong thing to do. The risks from infection may be greater than the risks from using antibiotics. However any news that we understand sepsis better is welcome. Sepsis is often not recognised as early as it should be and delays can be catastrophic for patients. Hospitals should be using early warning scoring systems (often called MEWS or EWS) to recognise when people are developing sepsis. Sadly in too many cases the systems are not used properly.

In some cases people have successfully pursued claims where there have been negligent delays. One man had to have his leg amputated above the knee. Another had a serious brain injury. He was left hemiplegic (paralysed down one side) and cognitively damaged – struggling to understand things and communicate. A young woman died after a miscarriage and another after a Caesarean section. These were all tragedies for the patients and their families. Recovering damages cannot turn the clock back for them but they can help people to cope with their disabilities and make good some of the financial loss families suffer.

Enable Law supports The UK Sepsis Trust and helps to promote better understanding of this life-threatening condition. Its specialist solicitors support people who have suffered avoidable injuries when sepsis is mismanaged.

If you have received negligent sepsis treatment, speak to our medical negligence solicitors and find out if we can help: call 0800 044 8448.