Septic Arthritis: Here What You Need to Know

Gavel and stethoscope, medical malpractice lawyers

When septic arthritis is not promptly diagnosed and treated, permanent damage to the joint can result. A joint infection that causes red, swollen, and painful joints, septic arthritis is often accompanied by a fever. When a patient presents with these symptoms, septic arthritis is one of the first conditions doctors typically consider. When a doctor fails to diagnose and treat the condition, patients may be able to recover compensation for their injuries by filing a medical malpractice lawsuit.

What Is Septic Arthritis?

Septic arthritis is a condition that occurs when a bacterium or virus directly invades a joint. When germs travel through the patient’s bloodstream from another part of the body or a penetrating injury delivers germs to the joint, it causes intense pain along with redness and swelling of the joint. Most patients develop a fever and chills. In most cases, patients cannot move the infected joint.

Each year in the United States, around 20,000 cases of septic arthritis occur. That’s about 7.8 cases per 100,000 people. Among those diagnosed, nearly half are older than 65. Between 8% and 15% of people with septic arthritis die of the condition.

Healthcare professionals working in nursing homes and hospitals need to watch for symptoms of septic arthritis. Immediate diagnosis and treatment protect the joint from deterioration. If left untreated, septic arthritis can cause permanent damage to the joint. Severe cases may require amputation of the affected limb.

Prompt Treatment Is Critical

Timely diagnosis and treatment are critical when dealing with septic arthritis. If a patient presents with symptoms of septic arthritis, taking a “wait and see” approach can lead to permanent injury or death. Symptoms often begin suddenly and require prompt medical attention. Diagnosis requires a joint fluid analysis, imaging tests, and blood tests. Treatment requires draining the joint and using antibiotics to treat the infection. The extent of the infection will determine how aggressive the treatment must be. Sometimes, doctors drain the fluid using a needle, but a scope or open surgery may also be necessary to get all of the infected fluid out of the joint.

What Puts a Person at Risk for Septic Arthritis?

Septic arthritis can affect anyone, but certain risk factors increase an individual’s risk of developing this condition. One of these is age, as the elderly have a higher risk. People living with rheumatoid arthritis or other existing joint problems or joint trauma are at higher risk. Also, individuals with immune system disorders or weakness are more prone to developing the condition. In addition, 56 percent of patients who develop septic arthritis are male, so gender is another factor.

Fragile skin with open wounds, eczema, psoriasis or similar conditions, can provide an entry point for the bacteria or viruses that lead to septic arthritis. Diagnosis with a staph infection also increases the risk of this disease. Those caring for individuals who have these risk factors need to carefully watch for symptoms so they can seek treatment quickly.

Prosthetic Joint Infections and Septic Arthritis

Septic arthritis can occur in any joint, but prosthetic joints are more at risk than natural joints. This type of infection is the most challenging to diagnose and treat. Sometimes the infection happens early, within three months of the joint replacement surgery. Some happen within three months to two years of the implant surgery. In each of these cases, bacteria acquired during the surgery are typically the cause. If poor sanitation during the surgery caused an infection, doctors can and should be held accountable.

Later case prosthetic joint infections are not related to the operating room. These typically occur when an infection in another part of the body spreads to the joint.

What Happens When Doctors Fail to Diagnose Septic Arthritis

Patients and their families need to understand their rights if medical providers fail to recognize and treat septic arthritis. Diagnostic errors are the most common cause of medical negligence lawsuits and when injuries are severe or death occurs, financial recovery can be substantial.

In septic arthritis, which can worsen quickly causing permanent damage, delayed treatment often means life-altering consequences for patients. Permanent loss of use of the limb or amputation typically results in long-term medical treatment and rehabilitation, loss of income, loss of enjoyment of life, and pain and suffering. Medical malpractice lawyers can help those who have suffered damage get the right compensation for their injuries as a result of negligence.