What is sepsis?


What Is Sepsis?

What can you expect when someone has sepsis?

The person may start new treatments while still in the hospital. Different doctors may help with different symptoms.

If a person needs to be treated in the intensive care unit (ICU), the ICU staff will do everything they can to treat all of the problems sepsis causes, including the infection. The ICU can be scary and confusing for patients and their families, friends, and supporters. But it’s designed to keep your loved one comfortable and safe and to provide the best medical care.

Expect a long recovery after the person leaves the ICU. If you need it, ask for support from friends and family.

What are the symptoms of sepsis?

Sepsis causes varied symptoms. Symptoms may include breathing problems, a fast heartbeat, chills, cool clammy skin, skin rashes, and shaking. Other symptoms may include a fever or low body temperature, confusion, and low blood pressure. If you are concerned about sepsis, go to the hospital immediately.

How is sepsis treated?

Doctors will treat sepsis with medicine to treat infection. They will try to find the infection that led to sepsis.

Machines will track vital signs, including temperature, blood pressure, breathing rate, and pulse rate. You'll get fluids through an I.V. You may also get strong medicine. This can help raise your blood pressure.

You might need to be treated in an intensive care unit (ICU) for several days or weeks. An ICU is a part of the hospital where very sick people get care.

Equipment in the ICU can support your body. That includes your breathing, circulation, fluids, and help for organs like the kidneys and heart. If you need help breathing, a ventilator may be used.

How can you prevent sepsis?

Here are some ways to help prevent infections that could lead to sepsis:

  • Avoid infections such as COVID-19, colds, and the flu. Wash your hands often. Stay up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines. And get a flu vaccine every year.
  • Get a pneumococcal vaccine (to prevent pneumonia, meningitis, and other infections). If you have had one before, ask your doctor if you need another dose.
  • Clean any wounds or scrapes.
  • Do not smoke or use other tobacco products. When you quit smoking, you are less likely to get a cold, the flu, bronchitis, and pneumonia. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.

How is sepsis diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and do tests, including blood tests. You may get an imaging test, such as an X-ray or CT scan, to help find the infection.

How can you care for yourself when you have sepsis?

Self-care for sepsis means taking medicines, avoiding infection, and taking care of your body. Drink plenty of fluids. Eat a healthy diet. Avoid COVID-19, colds, and the flu. Wash your hands often and get a flu vaccine. Stay up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines. If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed.

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is a serious reaction to an infection. It causes inflammation across large areas of the body and can damage tissue and organs.

Sepsis can develop very quickly. It requires immediate care in a hospital.

Infections that can lead to sepsis include:

  • A skin infection such as from a cut.
  • A lung infection like pneumonia.
  • A urinary tract infection.
  • A gut infection such as E. coli.

Symptoms can include low blood pressure, breathing problems, fast heartbeat, and confusion. Other symptoms include fever or low body temperature, chills, cool clammy skin, skin rashes, and shaking. Sepsis can cause problems in many organs.

Septic shock is sepsis that causes extremely low blood pressure, which limits blood flow to the body. It can cause organ failure and death.

What causes sepsis?

Most of the time, sepsis is caused by a bacterial infection.

Infections that can lead to sepsis include:

  • A skin infection such as from a cut.
  • A lung infection like pneumonia.
  • A urinary tract infection.
  • A gut infection such as E. coli.

Sepsis can occur in people of any age. But it is more common in infants, older adults, and people who have a compromised immune system that cannot fight infection. Sepsis can develop very quickly.

Sepsis: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have symptoms such as:
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Feeling very sick.
    • Severe pain.
    • A fast heart rate.
    • Cool, pale, or clammy skin.
    • Feeling confused.
    • Feeling very sleepy, or you are hard to wake up.
  • You are dizzy or lightheaded, or you feel like you may faint.
  • You have a fever or chills.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.