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Quick Facts

Sepsis ˈsep-səs

By The Manual's Editorial Staff, ,

What are sepsis and septic shock?

Sepsis is when germs (bacteria) get into your bloodstream and trigger a serious body-wide reaction. When sepsis is severe, one or more of your organs shut down. For example, your kidneys may stop making urine or your lungs may stop bringing in oxygen.

Septic shock is the most dangerous kind of sepsis. You have very low blood pressure (shock), and many of your organs shut down. Septic shock can be fatal.

  • Sepsis is caused by a bacterial infection that spreads to your bloodstream

  • People with a weakened immune system or certain diseases, such as diabetes or cirrhosis of the liver, are more likely to get sepsis

  • Doctors need to treat sepsis and septic shock as soon as possible with antibiotics and lots of IV fluids

What causes sepsis?

Sepsis is usually caused by a bacterial infection. The infection can start in any part of your body, including your:

  • Lungs

  • Bladder or kidneys

  • Belly

  • Skin

Sometimes, the bacteria get in through an IV catheter used to give fluids and medicine.

If the infection spreads to your bloodstream and causes your body to react, you have sepsis.

The most dangerous kinds of bacteria that cause sepsis are usually found in hospitals.

What are the symptoms of sepsis and septic shock?

Sepsis

Usually sepsis causes a high fever. You may also have:

  • Shaking, chills, and weakness

  • Fast heart rate

  • Fast breathing

You may also have symptoms of the infection that caused your sepsis. For example, if you have a lung infection, you may have a cough and trouble breathing.

Septic shock

If you have septic shock, you have low blood pressure that doesn’t get better with treatment. You may also have:

  • Confusion and weakness

  • Skin that's hot to the touch

  • A fast, pounding pulse

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing

  • Less urine

Some people with septic shock will die from it.

How can doctors tell if I have sepsis?

At first, sepsis can be hard to diagnose. Doctors can tell you have sepsis based on your symptoms and by doing blood tests to look for bacteria. They will also do blood tests to see how your organs are working. If it's not clear where the infection came from, they may also do imaging tests:

How do doctors treat sepsis?

Doctors treat sepsis in the hospital right away with antibiotics and fluids given through a vein (IV) . If you have septic shock, doctors may also:

  • Give you drugs to keep your blood pressure up

  • Give you oxygen to help you breathe or even put you on a breathing machine

  • Put you on a kidney dialysis machine

  • Take out whatever is causing the infection—such as an infected IV line

  • Do surgery to drain pus or take out infected tissue

If you have sepsis, the chances of getting better and avoiding severe sepsis and septic shock are higher the earlier you get treatment. Doctors follow detailed routines to give the right treatment as fast as possible.