Patients 2017-06-10T05:00:19+00:00

What is sepsis?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sepsis is the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to infection which can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and possibly death. An infection is caused by microorganisms or “germs” (usually bacteria) invading the body and can be limited to one location in the body or can be widespread in the bloodstream, also known as septicemia or “blood poisoning”.

How do you get sepsis?

Sepsis begins with an infection that may start from anywhere in the body such as a simple skin scrape, a cold that develops into pneumonia, a urinary tract infection, or following a surgical procedure. It can happen to anyone, at any time. Over 1 million cases of sepsis occur each year, killing more than 250,000 Americans and disabling thousands of survivors.

Who is at risk for sepsis?

Although everyone is at risk for developing sepsis from minor infections, sepsis is more likely to develop in:

  • People with weakened immune systems, often due to treatments such as chemotherapy for cancer, or steroids for inflammatory conditions
  • Babies and very young children
  • Elderly
  • People with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, AIDS, cancer and kidney or liver disease
  • People with severe burns or wounds
  • Patients admitted to the hospital and receiving medical treatments such as intravenous catheters, wound drainage, and urinary catheters

Ask your doctor about your risk for getting sepsis.

What are the symptoms of sepsis?

Sepsis is a combination of several symptoms and include:

  • Fever, often associated with shivering, chills, and feeling very cold
  • Abnormally low temperature (hypothermia) in some cases
  • Rapid and/or difficulty breathing, shortness of breath
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Extreme pain or general discomfort
  • Pale, discolored skin or rash
  • Sleepy, confused or disoriented
  • Diarrhea, vomiting, sore throat
  • General weakness

Some of the symptoms of sepsis depend on the source or site of the infection. Examples include:

  • Lung infection: shortness of breath and productive cough (pus-like sputum or phlegm)
  • Urinary Tract Infection: painful urination with/without odor
  • Central Nervous System Infection such as meningitis: severe headache, light-sensitivity, stiff neck
  • Abdominal infections such as appendicitis: severe abdominal pain

How can you PREVENT sepsis?

  1. Get vaccinated against infections that could lead to sepsis such as influenza and pneumonia. Ask your doctor which vaccinations are right for you.
  2. Practice good hygiene such as strict hand washing and bathing regularly. Be sure to clean scrapes and wounds right away.
  3. If you develop an infection, look for signs such as: fever, chills, rapid breathing and heart rate, rash, confusion, and disorientation.

What should you do if you think you have sepsis?

Call your doctor or go to the emergency room (ER) immediately if you have any signs or symptoms of an infection or suspect sepsis. Talk to the healthcare provider that is treating you and tell them that you are concerned about sepsis.

How is sepsis diagnosed?

Healthcare providers diagnose sepsis from symptoms such as fever, increased heart rate and increased breathing rate. These symptoms appear in many other conditions which makes sepsis hard to diagnose in the early stages.

Lab tests, such as cultures and lactic acid, may be ordered to check for signs of infection.

How is sepsis treated?

People with sepsis are managed in the hospital and are typically given antibiotics to treat the infection, oxygen to support breathing and intravenous (IV) fluids to prevent a drop in blood pressure. Depending on the severity of sepsis, breathing machines and kidney dialysis may be needed. Surgery may be required to remove or control the source of the infection.

Additional Resources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Website:

CDC Basic Resources and Patient Information:

International Sepsis Forum: