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Sepsis

Man lying in hospital bed with IV in arm. Health care provider is checking IV.
To treat sepsis, antibiotics and fluids may by given through an intravenous (IV) line.
Sepsis happens when your body responds with widespread inflammation to a bad infection or 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.

Risk factors

Those most at risk for sepsis are:

  • Infants or older adults

  • People who have an illness that weakens their immune system, such as cancer, AIDS, or diabetes

  • People being treated with chemotherapy medicines or radiation, which weakens the immune system

  • People who have had a transplant

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

When to go to the emergency department (ED)

Sepsis is an emergency. Go to the nearest ED if you have a fever with any of these symptoms:

  • Chills and shaking

  • Rapid heartbeat and breathing

  • Trouble breathing

  • Severe nausea or uncontrolled vomiting

  • Confusion, disorientation, drowsiness, or dizziness

  • Decreased urination

  • Severe pain, including in the back or joints 

What to expect in the ED

  • Blood and urine tests are done to look for bacteria. They also check for organ failure.

  • Blood, urine, or sputum cultures may be taken. The samples are sent to a lab. They are placed in a special container. Any bacteria should grow in 24 hours.

  • X-rays 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: Image reviewed by StayWell art team.
Online Medical Reviewer: Lentnek, Arnold, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Sather, Rita, RN
Last Review Date: 10/1/2016
© 2000-2016 The StayWell Company, LLC. 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.