Sepsis is a serious illness. It happens when your body has an overwhelming immune response to a bacterial infection. The chemicals released into the blood to fight the infection trigger widespread inflammation. This leads to blood clots and leaky blood vessels. They cause poor blood flow, which deprives your body's organs of nutrients and oxygen. In severe cases, one or more organs fail. In the worst cases, blood pressure drops and the heart weakens, leading to septic shock.
Anyone can get sepsis, but the risk is higher in
- People with weakened immune systems
- Infants and children
- Adults 65 and older
- People with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, AIDS, cancer, and kidney or liver disease
- People suffering from a severe burn or physical trauma
Common symptoms of sepsis are fever, chills, rapid breathing and heart rate, rash, confusion, and disorientation. Doctors diagnose sepsis using a blood test to see if the number of white blood cells is abnormal. They also do lab tests that check for signs of infection.
People with sepsis are usually treated in hospital intensive care units. Doctors try to treat the infection, sustain the vital organs, and prevent a drop in blood pressure. Many patients receive oxygen and intravenous (IV) fluids. Other types of treatment, such as respirators or kidney dialysis, may be necessary. Sometimes, surgery is needed to clear up an infection.
NIH: National Institute of General Medical Sciences
Prevention and Risk Factors
- CDC Vital Signs: Making Health Care Safer -- Think Sepsis. Time Matters. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in Spanish
Statistics and Research
- Life After Traumatic Injury: How the Body Responds (National Institute of General Medical Sciences)
Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
- Article: Genetic association between cluster of differentiation 86 variations and sepsis risk:...
- Article: Cumulative evidence for association of sepsis and retinopathy of prematurity.
- Article: Polymicrobial bacteremia after treatment of transcatheter arterial chemoembolization: A case report.
- Sepsis -- see more articles
Find an Expert
- Blood culture (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Group B streptococcal septicemia of the newborn (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Neonatal sepsis (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
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- Septic shock (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
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- Toxic shock syndrome (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish