Sepsis (Septic Shock)
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 requires immediate care in a hospital. Septic shock is sepsis that causes extremely low blood pressure, which limits blood flow to the body. It can cause death.
What causes it?
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.
What are the symptoms?
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 it 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 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 IV. 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 it?
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.
Current as of: February 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine