Do you know that the third most common cause of fatalities in the United States is sepsis?

If you didn’t, you aren’t alone. Sepsis isn’t a condition that many people fully understand, despite how common — and deadly — it is. Sepsis, which is sometimes called blood poisoning by laypeople, is a body’s toxic reaction to some kind of bacterial infection.

Unfortunately, despite its prevalence among hospital patients — who are the sickest of the sick when it comes to infections — many doctors and hospitals overlook the initial signs of sepsis. By the time they realize that a patient has gone septic, it may be too late for antibiotics to reverse the course of the infection. When left untreated, sepsis can quickly cause a patient’s kidneys to shut down, lead to respiratory distress and a number of other life-threatening complications.

Experts are trying to educate people not only about the frequency of septic reactions and their deadly nature, but also on how to recognize the early signs of sepsis when they see it. The greater the public’s awareness of what sepsis is and how to spot it, the better able people are to protect themselves and their loved ones from unnecessary harm.

If your loved one is suffering from an illness of any kind, be on the alert for the following signs of sepsis:

  • Temperature abnormalities: A temperature that is either too high or too low is a cause for concern.
  • Infection: Swelling, a foul-smelling discharge, itching and other symptoms of infection need to be examined immediately.
  • Mental confusion: An altered mental state is one of the biggest signs of sepsis. Patients may range from somnambulant to hallucinatory.
  • Extreme sickness: Septic patients feel intensely ill — sicker than they have ever felt in their entire lives.

If you have concerns that a hospitalized loved one has developed sepsis, immediately mention your concern to the doctor. Any failure on the doctor’s part to follow through that leads to injury could be considered medical malpractice, so doctors will usually take such concerns seriously.