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Sepsis

Sepsis occurs when your body responds to bacteremia – the presence of bacteria in your bloodstream. Sepsis can be deadly. Blood pressure may drop and the lungs and kidneys may start to fail. Emergency care for sepsis is crucial.

Man lying in hospital bed with IV in arm. Healthcare provider is checking IV.

Risk Factors

Those most at risk for sepsis are:

  • Infants or older adults

  • People who have an illness such as cancer, AIDS, or diabetes

  • People being treated with chemotherapy medications or radiation

  • People who have had a transplant

  • People with an infection such as pneumonia, meningitis, or a urinary tract infection

When to Go to the Emergency Department (ED)

Sepsis is a medical emergency. Go to the nearest emergency department if a fever is present with any of these symptoms:

  • Chills and shaking

  • Fever or low body temperature (hypothermia)

  • Rapid heartbeat and breathing; shortness of breath

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Confusion, dizziness

  • Skin rash

  • Decreased urination

What to Expect in the ED

  • Blood and urine tests are done to look for the presence of bacteria.

  • A blood culture may be done. In this test, a blood sample is sent to a lab, where it’s placed in a special container. Any bacteria in the blood should grow in 24 hours.

  • X-rays may be taken or other imaging tests may be done.

A person with sepsis will be admitted to the hospital and treated with antibiotics. Treatment may also include oxygen and intravenous fluids.

Online Medical Reviewer: Costello, Melissa W, MD, FACEP
Online Medical Reviewer: Williams, James M, MS, DO, FACEP
Last Review Date: 12/29/2011
© 2000-2014 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.