Skip to Content



What is sepsis?

Sepsis happens when an infection spreads and causes the body to react strongly to germs, usually bacteria. The body's defense system normally releases chemicals to fight off infection at the infected area. Due to the spread of infection in sepsis, chemicals are released throughout the body. The chemicals cause inflammation and can cause clotting in small blood vessels that is difficult to control. Inflammation and clotting decreases blood flow and oxygen to organs. This may cause them to stop working correctly. Sepsis is also called systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS) due to infection.

What increases my risk for sepsis?

  • An infection anywhere in your body
  • Treatment in a hospital for a serious illness or having an implanted catheter
  • Being very young or very old
  • Chronic conditions such as COPD, heart failure, or diabetes
  • A weakened immune system from a long-term condition or medicine
  • A recent surgery
  • Severe injuries, such as large burns

What are the signs and symptoms of sepsis?

  • Fever or very low body temperature
  • Chills or severe shaking
  • Extreme weakness
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Fast or difficult breathing
  • Confusion, loss of consciousness, or a seizure
  • Urinating very little or not at all

How is sepsis diagnosed?

  • Measurement of your vital signs may show an abnormal temperature, heart rate, or blood pressure.
  • Blood and urine tests will show infection, organ function, and give information about your overall health. They may also show what germ is causing your infection.
  • An x-ray, ultrasound, CT, or MRI may show where in your body the infection came from. You may be given contrast liquid to swallow or in your IV to help the infection, show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to any type of contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is sepsis treated?

Several treatments may be needed if sepsis causes one or more organs to stop working correctly. Treatments are often started in the emergency room and continued in an intensive care, or critical care unit of a hospital. You may need any of the following:

  • Medicines may be given to increase your blood pressure and blood flow to your organs. Medicines may also be given to decrease inflammation, control your blood sugar, prevent stomach ulcers, and prevent blood clots. Antibiotics may be given to treat an infection.
  • Removal or change of a catheter or drain may be needed to get rid of the infection.
  • Nutrition support may be needed if you cannot eat normally. During sepsis you may not be awake, or you may have a breathing tube that prevents you from eating. A feeding tube may be inserted. A feeding tube is a small, thin tube that is inserted through your nose or mouth into your stomach or small intestine. Formula can be injected through the feeding tube and give you nutrition. You may instead need nutrition through your IV.
  • A blood transfusion may be needed if bleeding occurs or platelet levels drop. This can happen in severe sepsis.
  • Dialysis may be needed if the kidneys stop working correctly or are damaged during sepsis. Dialysis is a procedure to remove chemicals, wastes, and extra fluid from your blood.
  • Surgery or other procedures may be needed to treat problems causing sepsis. This may include draining an abscess or removing infected tissue.

Call 911 or have someone else call for any of the following:

  • You have any of the following signs of a heart attack:
    • Squeezing, pressure, or pain in your chest that lasts longer than 5 minutes or returns
    • Discomfort or pain in your back, neck, jaw, stomach, or arm
    • Trouble breathing
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Lightheadedness or a sudden cold sweat, especially with chest pain or trouble breathing
  • You have a seizure or lose consciousness.
  • You have trouble breathing.
  • Your lips or fingernails are blue.
  • You feel extremely weak and have a hard time moving.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have been diagnosed with an infection and your symptoms, such as fever, get worse.
  • You have increased swelling in your legs, feet, or abdomen.
  • You stop urinating or urinate a lot less.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

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

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.

© 2016 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.

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.