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What is sepsis?

Sepsis is a serious condition that occurs when the body overreacts to an infection. It is also called systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS) with infection. An infection is usually caused by bacteria that attack the body. The body's defense system normally fights off infection within the affected body part. With sepsis, the body overreacts and causes symptoms to occur throughout the body. This leads to uncontrolled and widespread inflammation and clotting in small blood vessels. Blood flow to different body parts decreases and may lead to organ failure. Sepsis requires immediate treatment.

What causes sepsis?

Any kind of infection in the body can trigger sepsis. Sepsis can strike anyone at any age, but you may be at higher risk if:

  • You are being treated in a hospital for a serious illness.
  • You are very young or very old.
  • You have a genetic tendency for sepsis.
  • You have a weakened immune system.
  • You have had surgery.
  • You have an infection or medical condition.
  • You have severe injuries, such as large burns.

What are the signs and symptoms of sepsis?

  • Fever or hypothermia (very low body temperature)
  • Chills or severe shaking
  • Fast or irregular heart rate
  • Fast breathing
  • Confusion
  • Urinating very little or not at all

How is sepsis diagnosed?

  • Blood gases: This is also called an arterial blood gas, or ABG. Blood is taken from an artery (blood vessel) in your wrist, arm, or groin. Your blood is tested for the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in it. The results can tell caregivers how well your lungs are working.
  • Blood tests: You may need blood taken to give caregivers information about how your body is working. The blood may be taken from your hand, arm, or IV.
  • Urine sample: For this test you need to urinate into a small container. You will be given instructions on how to clean your genital area before you urinate. Do not touch the inside of the cup. Follow instructions on where to place the cup of urine when you are done.
  • Chest x-ray: This is a picture of your lungs and heart. Caregivers use it to see how your lungs and heart are doing. Caregivers may use the x-ray to look for signs of infection like pneumonia, or to look for collapsed lungs. Chest x-rays may show tumors, broken ribs, or fluid around the heart and lungs.
  • Other tests: Your healthcare provider may do imaging tests, such as an ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI, to find the source of your infection.

How is sepsis treated?

Sepsis is a serious condition. Treatments are often done in an intensive care or critical care unit of a hospital. You may need any of the following:

  • Medicines:
    • Antibiotics: This medicine is given to help treat or prevent an infection caused by bacteria.
    • Heart medicine: This medicine is given to strengthen or regulate your heartbeat. It also may help your heart in other ways. Talk with your caregiver to find out what your heart medicine is and why you are taking it.
    • Steroids: This medicine may be given to decrease inflammation.
    • Vasopressors: These medicines help to increase your blood pressure and increase blood flow.
  • Surgery: You may also need surgery to treat problems causing sepsis.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have increased swelling in your legs, feet, or abdomen.
  • You are short of breath or you cough up blood.
  • You have a fast heart rate and your chest hurts.
  • You feel so dizzy that you have trouble standing up.
  • Your lips or fingernails are blue.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.