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What is sepsis?
Sepsis is your body's overactive and extreme response to an infection. Sepsis is a life-threatening medical emergency. Without quick treatment, it can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and even death.
What causes sepsis?
Sepsis happens when an infection you already have triggers a chain reaction throughout your body. Bacterial infections are the most common cause, but other types of infections can also cause it.
The infections are often in the lungs, stomach, kidneys, or bladder. It's possible for sepsis to begin with a small cut that gets infected or with an infection that develops after surgery. Sometimes, sepsis can occur in people who didn't even know that they had an infection.
Who is at risk for sepsis?
Anyone with an infection could get sepsis. But certain people are at higher risk:
- Adults 65 or older
- People with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, lung disease, cancer, and kidney disease
- People with weakened immune systems
- Pregnant women
- Children younger than one
What are the symptoms of sepsis?
Sepsis can cause one or more of these symptoms:
- Rapid breathing and heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Confusion or disorientation
- Extreme pain or discomfort
- Fever, shivering, or feeling very cold
- Clammy or sweaty skin
It's important to get medical care right away if you think you might have sepsis or if your infection is not getting better or is getting worse.
What other problems can sepsis cause?
Severe cases of sepsis can lead to septic shock, where your blood pressure drops to a dangerous level and multiple organs can fail.
How is sepsis diagnosed?
Your health care provider may use many tools to make a diagnosis:
- A medical history, which includes asking about your symptoms
- A physical exam, including checking vital signs (your temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing)
- Lab tests that check for signs of infection or organ damage
- Imaging tests such as an x-ray or a CT scan to find the location of the infection
Many of the signs and symptoms of sepsis can also be caused by other medical conditions. This may make sepsis hard to diagnose in its early stages.
What are the treatments for sepsis?
It is very important to get treatment right away. Treatment usually includes:
- Maintaining blood flow to organs. This may involve getting oxygen and intravenous (IV) fluids.
- Treating the source of the infection
- If needed, medicines to increase blood pressure
In serious cases, you might need kidney dialysis or a breathing tube. Some people need surgery to remove tissue damaged by the infection.
Can sepsis be prevented?
To prevent sepsis, you should try to prevent getting an infection:
- Take good care of any chronic health conditions that you have
- Get recommended vaccines
- Practice good hygiene, such as handwashing
- Keep cuts clean and covered until healed
NIH: National Institute of General Medical SciencesCenters for Disease Control and Prevention
- Sepsis (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Staying Safe From Sepsis: Preventing Infections and Improving Survival (National Institutes of Health) Also in Spanish
- What Is Sepsis? (National Institute of General Medical Sciences) Also in Spanish
Diagnosis and Tests
- Bacteria Culture Test (National Library of Medicine) Also in Spanish
- Lactic Acid Test (National Library of Medicine) Also in Spanish
- Procalcitonin Test (National Library of Medicine) Also in Spanish
Prevention and Risk Factors
- CDC Vital Signs: Making Health Care Safer -- Think Sepsis. Time Matters. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Bacteremia (Merck & Co., Inc.) Also in Spanish
- Toxic Shock Syndrome (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research)
Statistics and Research
- Group B Strep (GBS): Fast Facts and Statistics (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in Spanish
- Life After Traumatic Injury: How the Body Responds (National Institute of General Medical Sciences)
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Bacteremia (National Institutes of Health)
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Sepsis (National Institutes of Health)
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Septicemia (National Institutes of Health)
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Shock, Septic (National Institutes of Health)
Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
- Article: Optimizing Fluid Management Guided by Volumetric Parameters in Patients with Sepsis...
- Article: Exploring choices of early nutritional support for patients with sepsis based...
- Article: Clinical outcomes after a single induction dose of etomidate versus ketamine...
- Sepsis -- see more articles
Find an Expert
- Blood Culture (For Parents) (Nemours Foundation)
- Sepsis (For Parents) (Nemours Foundation)
- Toxic Shock Syndrome (For Teens) (Nemours Foundation) Also in Spanish
- 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
- Sepsis (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Septic shock (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Septicemia (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Toxic shock syndrome (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish