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Necrotising Fasciitis
Characteristics of Necrotising Fasciitis

Characteristics of Necrotising Fasciitis

In this article we look at the characteristic symptoms of necrotising fasciitis, exploring how they symptoms develop and change as the condition progresses.

If you think you have necrotising fasciitis, you need emergency medical attention at a hospital. If you have had necrotising fasciitis (or your loved one has) and you believe doctors failed to accurately interpret your symptoms, you need to speak to a solicitor. You could be entitled to pursue a claim for a delayed diagnosis.

Early symptoms of necrotising fasciitis

Necrotising fasciitis begins when certain bacteria reach the deep tissues and begin to reproduce. The reproduction process releases a toxin the damages the tissues. This will cause the patient to experience the following symptoms:

  • Severe pain in an area of tissue that cannot be explained, or is disproportionately painful to the injury present
  • Red skin at the site of pain that is hot to touch
  • Feeling unwell with flu-like symptoms

Symptoms of advanced necrotising fasciitis

Every case of necrotising fasciitis is different in terms of timing, but generally after about 24 hours the patient's condition will begin to deteriorate. This is because the bacteria have continued to reproduce, causing more and more tissue to become infected.

Additionally, the damage done by the bacteria will disrupt the blood supply, leaving the tissue without enough blood and oxygen (which is carried in the blood). Consequently the tissue will begin to die. The patient will then experience the following symptoms:

  • Continuing pain but across a wider area of tissue
  • Swollen skin at the site of infection
  • More noticeable changes in the colour of the skin, which may be dark red, blotchy and covered in blisters
  • Continuing fever
  • Diarrhoea and vomiting

Symptoms of severe necrotising fasciitis

Without treatment the bacteria will keep reproducing, spreading to an ever growing area of tissue. The bacteria may also get to the bloodstream. The body will respond by attacking the bacteria, but this will result in sepsis, where the body actually attacks its own organs and tissues. The patient will then experience the following symptoms:

  • Continuing pain
  • Further skin changes, with the skin becoming increasingly dark in colour
  • An open wound which looks like the bacteria is eating the tissue
  • Extreme drop in blood pressure, leading to confusion, cold clammy skin, rapid/shallow breathing and dizziness
  • Unconsciousness
  • Organ dysfunction

How quickly does this happen?

As mentioned above in this article, the timings are different for every necrotising fasciitis patient. However, the infection does move very quickly as it is extremely aggressive. Normally from the point of infection it takes just days for the patient to have progressed to a critical condition.

Conditions that necrotising fasciitis can be mistaken for

Necrotising fasciitis is a potentially fatal condition, but the early symptoms mimic other, more mild illnesses. This means that a patient who seeks medical attention shortly after developing the infection may be wrongly diagnosed. Conditions that necrotising fasciitis can be mistaken for include:

  • The flu
  • Cellulitis
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Gas gangrene
  • Erysipelas
  • Lymphangitis
  • Sepsis (although this may be an outcome of necrotising fasciitis)

Consequences of a delay in necrotising fasciitis treatment

However, if necrotising fasciitis is not treated in the early stages because of a misdiagnosis, the patient's condition will progress to advanced necrotising fasciitis. At this stage the patient's chances of survival will have decreased. In fact, the patient's chance of survival begins to decline from the moment the infection begins, and certainly by the advanced stage their condition will be very serious.

By the time a diagnosis is made, the patient will likely need extensive debridement surgery to remove all the infected tissue which could be widespread by that point. The amount of tissue death may be so severe that a limb has to be amputated. Additionally, the patient's organs will have started to lose function, so organ support will be required, along with intravenous fluids and antibiotics.

The NHS Choices website states that even with treatment, it is estimated that one or two in every five necrotising fasciitis cases are fatal. A delay in treatment will make the outlook even more pessimistic. Without treatment, the mortality rate is 100%.

What if a delay in treatment is caused by a misdiagnosis?

If treatment for necrotising fasciitis is delayed because doctors initially misdiagnosed the condition, there could be a case of medical negligence. While the early symptoms can be mistaken for illnesses such as the flu, it should not take medical practitioners long to realise that the changes to the skin indicate some type of soft tissue infection. This should quickly lead to a correct diagnosis being made.

Should medical practitioners continually misinterpret a patient's symptoms, delaying their treatment, the standard of care could be called into question. If a clinician is found to have been negligent in failing to secure a correct diagnosis within a reasonable amount of time, the patient (or their family) will be legally entitled to pursue legal action.

Speak to a solicitor

To find out if you are able to make a claim for a delayed diagnosis of necrotising fasciitis, please get in touch with us at Glynns Solicitors. The potential claim may either relate to yourself or to your loved one. Whatever the circumstances, we have the professional expertise to help you understand what went wrong and why. If we believe substandard medical care is to blame, we can assist you with a medical negligence claim, making the case on your behalf.

We offer a free initial enquiry to anyone considering a medical negligence claim in England and Wales. This gives you the chance to talk your potential case through with a legal expert, after which you will be told whether you have grounds for a claim.

We advise that you seek early legal assistance because medical negligence claims must be made within three years of the event. If you miss this opportunity, you may not be able to make a claim.

When you contact us for a free initial enquiry we can also take you through the various funding options available, which include a no win no fee agreement.

Please call us free on 0800 234 3300 (or from a mobile 01275 334030) or complete our Online Enquiry Form.

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